HOT ISSUE: Should NGOs take government funding for relief work in Iraq?

Several UK aid organisations announced last week that they will not be applying for an extra £3 million of funding put aside by the Government for emergency relief work in Iraq. Many are concerned about the implications of accepting money from a government perceived by sections of the public as belligerent.

ZAHRA AKKERHUYS, Iraq press officer, Oxfam


Oxfam has a policy of not taking funding from belligerent parties. This is a decision based on the principles of impartial humanitarian assistance.

It is important that aid agencies are not seen as instruments of government foreign policy.

If aid agencies accept money from aggressors in a conflict , this could be interpreted as sanctioning of the action and imply support where this is not necessarily the case.

Taking government money also raises security issues that could jeopardise our programme's effectiveness. It is important for the safety of our staff working in the region that we are not seen to be associated with a belligerent party.

Although we do not accept funding from belligerent sources, we would be happy to accept funds that have been channelled through the United Nations. We would also accept funds from the European Union, the public, and governments which do not have forces fighting in Iraq.

If there were a grave humanitarian imperative and there were no other sources of funds available, we would review our policy.

JEAN-MICHEL PIEDAGNEL, executive director, Medecins Sans Frontieres UK


MSF never accepts funds from warring parties. So MSF in the UK will not be funded by the Department for International Development or any other UK government body for action in or around Iraq. To do so would compromise our neutrality and impartiality.

We have to be free to help those that need it most, not those who meet a government's game plan.

Even if it's possible theoretically to maintain operational independence, perceived alliances can prevent teams reaching the most vulnerable. To the Iraqi on the ground, if you're paid by a government with troops in the area then you're aligned with them. Getting access to those who desperately need your help often hinges on the understanding that you are completely impartial. It's your passport.

At the moment, MSF has enough independent funds to cover any initial actions in Iraq and neighbouring countries. If we need further funds, we may launch a public appeal.

BEVERLEY JONES, head of international division, CAFOD


As a humanitarian agency CAFOD affirms the importance of the principles of impartiality in the distribution of emergency relief. In view of this, CAFOD cannot envisage circumstances under which it would accept money for war-related humanitarian work from any belligerent party in a war against Iraq during the fighting.

Once the fighting has stopped, CAFOD will reconsider its position and will work with its partners in the region, particularly Caritas Iraq, to respond to the needs in the region. In all its operations, CAFOD strives to comply with the Code of Conduct for the Red Cross Movement and Non-Governmental Organisations in Disaster Relief. One article of that code states that NGOs will "endeavour not to act as instruments of government foreign policy".

NICK GUTTMANN, head of emergencies, Christian Aid


But this is not a simple yes or no answer. In any emergency, Christian Aid's actions and activities are decided on the basis of humanitarian need, in accordance with the principles of impartiality and neutrality. Therefore it would be inappropriate for Christian Aid to refuse to take money from governments if such a decision was likely to seriously undermine its ability to fulfil its humanitarian objectives.

Our decisions are made in accordance with core principles, which include impartiality and independence of action. Christian Aid would only accept government funding for projects and activities that it wishes to support and believes to be appropriate.

The key thing here is that we set an agenda that the Government can choose to support if it wishes.

It is important to note that in many conflict and post-conflict situations that the Government has been involved in, Christian Aid has worked successfully with the Department for International Development to meet the needs of poor and vulnerable people without undermining our impartiality.

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