In light of revelations surrounding nine Oxfam aid workers’ sexual misconduct in Haiti in 2011, it is not just this charity whose reputation is at threat, but the entire aid and development community who risks losing the support it needs to continue doing vital work.
As we are learning on a daily basis, sexual abuse is not an issue exclusive to the humanitarian sector. From Hollywood to UK parliament, the media is reporting story after story demonstrative of a deeply rooted societal and structural problem. Humanitarians abusing beneficiaries of aid as claims to be the case during the post-earthquake relief effort in Haiti, is a particularly dark reflection of this.
Regardless of the apology and shame professed on behalf of the charity’s chief executive Mark Goldring, Oxfam will quite literally pay a price for the scandal, as donors may respond by withdrawing funding. Britain’s International Development Secretary Penny Mordaunt stated the charity must account for its conduct in handling the claims, or risk losing its £32 million worth of government funding. The anti-foreign aid camp is using this to fuel their charge against the 0.7% overseas spending target and regular givers from the general public have shared feelings of disappointment and deterrence.
This comes at a time when public interest in overseas aid is already dwindling, as a result of increasing mistrust. With growing pressure on government to reduce spending, individual donors are fundamental to keeping the work of NGOs alive. But findings of the Gates Aid Tracker suggests the number of people donating money to international development causes dropped in the second half of 2015 and has remained lower ever since.
The Rohingya crisis, civil war in Yemen and the unprecedented refugee crisis worldwide witnessing 65 million displaced people, are all demonstrations of the growing need for humanitarian action – action which can only take place with the necessary funding.
We must remind ourselves that Oxfam, alongside other NGOs exist, precisely to do work which the government is not doing. But Oxfam nonetheless relies on a large chunk of government money to help it do its job of relieving some the world’s most vulnerable from poverty.
In 2000, Africa was struggling with major epidemics including two million people being killed by AIDS annually, child mortality, malaria and tuberculosis both surging diseases, while hundreds of thousands of women were dying during childbirth. Both WHO and the UN consequently took action to markedly improve public health in developing countries with initiatives such as the Global Fund and Global Alliance which set out to promote the effective delivery of aid.
Both the number of childhood deaths per year and extreme poverty has been cut since 1990 and the fight against malaria is making great progress, with new data showing the death rate in sub-Saharan Africa declining by 57%. This has only been possible with an increase in focus and commitment on behalf of the international community. Bill Gates is certain the disease can be eradicated by 2040. Foreign aid works.
The behaviour of the nine individuals responsible for the misconduct is disgraceful and intolerable, and more cases may still come to light. Measures must be taken to prevent such behaviour in the future and more must be done to ensure events like this cannot be concealed. Transparency and accountability must be prioritised in order to prove to donors that international NGOs are trustworthy and absolutely deserve overseas aid money.
As for the rest of the sector, namely field workers who risk their lives to help others every single day, they must not be prevented from carrying out their invaluable and necessary humanitarian work. Which is why we must call on solidarity at a time of crisis for the aid and development community.