Sunday, January 30, 2005

Better late than never

Picked up by the invaluable Diplomad Blog on 21 January and posted by this Blog on the same day was a link from a serving naval officer aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln, under the pen name of Ed Stanton, complaining about UN and aid agency personnel and their interference in the tsunami aid effort.

It is fascinating to see, therefore, a full nine days later, the same story appearing in The Sunday Telegraph, this time under the heading: "US Navy officer attacks 'travelling circus of aid workers' for impeding the tsunami relief effort in Indonesia". We also note that it took two correspondents, Philip Sherwell in Washington and Inigo Gilmore in Banda Aceh, to write the story.

We will not re-tell the tale, as readers can pick up either the original or the Telegraph version (which is heavily edited) from the links provided above, but will note that, according to the Telegraph, "the attack was rejected by UN officials in Banda Aceh". Now there is a surprise.

But we are also told that, "on the ground", some aid workers also complained about UN bureaucracy, while Acehnese told of inefficiencies in the aid operation.

It also seems that Stanton's views were not welcomed by the military. In stiff official prose, Lt David Benham, a Pacific Fleet spokesman, said: "The comments do not reflect the position of the US government. We are working closely with the governments and organisations out there. They want us there and we want to be there."

Interestingly, though, Benham does not deny – or even attempt to deny – Stanton’s account of events. On the other hand, Heather Hill, the World Food Programme's spokesman in Banda Aceh, did try, rejecting suggestions that UN officials had hampered operations.

She said that it had taken time to get to positions "in country" but they had now reached remote places. "No one is living off caviar. Conditions are hard but people are motivated by the idea of being part of this historic mission."

A Spanish aid agency worker in Banda Aceh, however, said that some UN officials had appeared arrogant, and suggested that the UN was hindered by bureaucracy. "It is a huge machine and it moves very slowly," he said. "It takes 50 pages of bureaucratic work just to move one nail. This can be a problem and that is why some Americans are probably upset. They like to just get on with it."

Nevertheless, some bloggers have come to the defence of the UN and, in the interests of balance, a link to one of the better ones is here. Our readers, as always, can draw their own conclusions.

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