Agencies ponder disaster pact

Anita Pati

UK humanitarian agencies are in talks about the possibility of collaborating during disaster relief operations.

The talks were instigated by Geoffrey Dennis, chief executive at Care International, who said that concern over duplication among agencies following the 2004 south Asian tsunami had prompted the move.

The Red Cross, Oxfam, ActionAid, Help the Aged, Save the Children and Plan UK are involved in the discussions with a view to working together as a coalition.

If the coalition goes ahead, it is expected that each agency would assess its own strengths and weaknesses and duties would be assigned accordingly.

Care International, for example, would use its expertise in establishing refugee camps and Oxfam its experience in water supply and sanitation.

"We had to review our strategic plan, which finished this year, and it occurred to me that, rather than do this in isolation, which some agencies have done, it would be more sensible to talk to all the others to see how we can work together," said Dennis. "The response I've had has been very positive."

A collaboration would also mean less competition for government money because each agency would apply for grants according to its strengths. "At the moment we would sometimes be competing for funding," he said.

Care is also hoping to persuade senior construction engineers from the UK's biggest building firms to volunteer their expertise during emergencies.

Steve Tibbett, head of policy and campaigns at ActionAid UK, said: "We're interested in shared learning with Care and other aid agencies so that we are co-ordinated. Working in alliances is very much part of ActionAid strategy."

Marie Staunton, chief executive of Plan UK, said the development agency was holding a conference today to finalise how it would build on its strengths, such as child participation and risk reduction. She said: "In discussions with Care, we looked at what we could do - Oxfam is good at water, Care is good at logistics."

KEY POINTS

- Aid agencies are discussing the possibility of working together in disaster relief situations

- Geoffrey Dennis of Care International instigated the talks following concerns that charities duplicated each others' efforts after the tsunami

- Each humanitarian agency would assess its individual strengths and weaknesses and choose duties accordingly.

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