It seems Africa can’t catch a break! Recurring humanitarian crises in the continent, whether man-made or natural, have over the decades severely overshadowed its development achievements. The most recent is the food crisis in East Africa. Over 10 million people in the horn of Africa are facing untold hardships from lack of food and increasing food prices as a result of the worst drought in the region since 1951.
According to Oxfam’s Humanitarian Director, “This is the worst food crisis of the 21st Century and we are seriously concerned that large numbers of lives could soon be lost.”
Like in all disasters, aid agencies are mobilizing to raise much needed funds. The Disaster Emergency Committee (DEC), an umbrella body for 14 of the UK’s top leading aid charities including the British Red Cross, Save the Children, World Vision, Oxfam and Christian Aid, coordinates fundraising and awareness activities during major disasters and emergencies.
During a major disaster, the DEC launches an appeal and a ‘joint period of action’ lasting a fortnight begins. Its members then jointly fundraise using the DEC’s main appeal; and all funds raised go to the DEC unless otherwise specified by the donor. These are then shared amongst those members who prior to an appeal launch had indicated an interest and are divided based on charity size and ability to utilize resources on the ground.
The DEC is a vital tool that helps the sector respond quickly to emergencies like the crisis in East Africa.
We should all throw our support behind its efforts, and of those agencies working to respond - but in doing so, I think we need to ask two questions.
First - why if the DEC appeal was about to be launched, did a number of individual agencies launch their own branded appeals?
Save the Children was the first to launch an appeal, followed by the British Red Cross and Oxfam. As at 8 July, Save the Children, Oxfam and the Red Cross had received £560,000, £277,000 and £150,000 respectively in donations from the British public.
The number of NGOs working to provide humanitarian aid has grown considerably, increasing competition for funds, media space and beneficiaries. And it seems it’s no different within the DEC. Why launch individual appeals knowing the DEC was going to be launching one? Wouldn’t this duplicate efforts? And aren’t these organisations spending money on un-necessary advertising and administrative costs?
Secondly, why are the images used in disaster response so negative?
The answer is clear - negative images of need work. Images of disasters are never pretty, and NGOs seem to strategically use them in their fundraising activities because they feel it works best. That's understandable - especially when the reality is so dire.
But, the effects of this are concerning. Negative images elicit guilt, however unintentionally, and portray the people in these crises and hopeless victims. The DEC’s Code of Conduct recognises that beneficiaries of aid are ‘dignified humans, not hopeless objects’ – but they too have employed this tactic:
Source 4: WORLD VISION
It is important to recognise that these kinds of images are fundamental to the mass response of disaster appeals - and have a big impact on securing much needed funds. At the same time, it is important to remember that these pictures only show a small part of the story, but are not representative of people that live in poor countries- who we have previously described as hardworking, intelligent and capable.
The average person has been overtly exposed to images of poverty and disaster like those above. However, I refuse to believe the only reason we will donate money for a good cause is by watching on, almost on a daily basis, as a fellow ‘human’ is being stripped of his dignity.
Let's be generous and give to this appeal - and to any appeal where there is real need. But, at the same time, let's do what we can to overcome the fiction that the public will only respond to the most confronting of images.