Tue, Sep 22, 2015 - Page 1 News List

Global NGOs said to ‘mislead’ public on Nepal quake aid

Thomson Reuters Foundation, LONDON

If you donated cash to survivors of the Nepal earthquakes this year, you may want to consider exactly how — or if — your money has been used.

Sixteen of the world’s largest disaster relief charities have revealed to the Thomson Reuters Foundation that they are spending up to a sixth of funds designated for Nepal on their overheads rather than in disaster-hit areas, when they are using local charities to do much of the work.

Affected communities have denounced the response to the twin quakes in April and May as too slow, with some claiming to have seen scant evidence of nearly US$475 million raised through UN appeals.

“The response is not helped by international humanitarian charities inflating the cost of doing business when they are not actually doing the work on the ground,” said Ben Smilowitz, founder of the Disaster Accountability Project, a US-based charity watchdog.

Immediately after the quakes, which killed almost 9,000 people, the Nepalese government said it would control the flow of international aid, urging foreign non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to work through national groups.

However, as global charities come under pressure to release detailed financial information, Smilowitz said NGOs should be more honest about the partners they are using on the ground as well as the amount they spend on overheads, including marketing, administration and fundraising.

The US-based charity Americares, which distributes medicines and supplies to Nepal-based groups, said 17 percent of its funds go on overheads, the most of all agencies surveyed by the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

The charity said it agreed its overhead rate with the US government aid department, USAID, where officials said the amounts vary according to country context and the NGO’s structure.

The survey also revealed some NGOs had only spent a fraction of the amount raised in the first three months after the quake, while not making clear to donors in online appeals they were working with local partner agencies.

Smilowitz said some international NGOs appear to have operations on the ground when, in fact, they are only donating money to local groups, a process known as regranting.

“When an NGO is regranting ... and they still take standard overhead as if they were delivering the services, then that is waste and abuse. It is misleading,” he said.

Americares, which has 10 of its own staff in Nepal, said its team was actively involved in the design, implementation and management of relief programs, as well as regranting. Its president and chief executive, Michael Nyenhuis, said its overheads were proportionate to its activities and he did not believe 17 percent was a high number.

Nyenhuis said the charity had provided about US$21 million of medicines and medical supplies to distribute in Nepal.

However, despite international donor pledges of US$4.1 billion for Nepal, the government, which coordinates and approves NGO activity, spent nothing on reconstruction in the first four months after the quake, the UN has said.

The NGOs surveyed by the Thomson Reuters Foundation were agencies actively seeking Nepal funds through PayPal’s charitable donations Web page.

Team Rubicon, Save The Children US and Catholic Relief Services did not respond to the survey.

SOS Children’s Villages, a US-based charity focused on protecting families and the young, said 11 to 20 percent of its Nepal funds went on running programs, fundraising, management and Nepal-specific communications.

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