The Voices of International NGO Staff Suellen Murray (RMIT University)
The international response to the Indian Ocean tsunami was simultaneously immediate and significant. Between 160 and 400 non-government organizations and agencies were operating within Aceh within weeks of the tsunami occurring.1 These international NGOs and agencies brought with them financial resources, materials and technical capacity. Given the resources available to them, expectations of affected communities, private and public donors, and the NGOs themselves that the relief and reconstruction efforts would be highly successful were high. However, while good work was undoubtedly done, the largest evaluation of the reconstruction efforts concluded that the overall effectiveness of NGOs was limited in a number of ways. After reviewing more than 140 evaluations from NGOs, donors, UN bodies and academic institutions, the Tsunami Evaluation Coalition identified a number of serious weaknesses in the international response. These included: organizations failing to work and support local communities; failing to coordinate and share assessment reports or other data; organizations using:
supply-driven, unsolicited and inappropriate aid; inappropriate housing designs and livelihoods solutions; stereotyping of options for women, small-farmers and small entrepreneurs; … brushing aside or misleading authorities, communities and local organizations; inadequate support to host families; displacement of able local staff by poorly prepared internationals; dominance of English as the working language; misrecognition of local capacities resulting in inefficient implementation; applying more demanding conditions to national and local ‘partners’ than those accepted by international agencies; poaching of staff from national and local entities; and limited participation of the affected-population. (Telford et al, 2006: p19)
How did these weaknesses occur, and why were these failures not recognized and rectified as they were occurring by those people implementing the responses?