on 9 June 2010
I read The Selfish Ultruist immediately after reading Linda Polman's War Games; the contrast could not have been more striking. Tony Vaux's book is a well researched, well informed assessment (warts and all) of aid delivery. The fact that it is written by a person who has worked in the field for Oxfam for a considerable time means that the comment has a ring of authority. I particularly liked the examples where due to thoughtful and informed work projects that did more than simply provide food and blankets were being used to help give people their self-respect back, give them something useful to do and at the same time providing significant relief.
I would take issue on one or two details such as the suggestion that women tend to dominate in development projects and men to dominate in disaster releif; there seems to be at least as many women, if not more, working in disaster relief and even more on the development side. More importantly I don't think trying to measure this is constructive. Secondly Tony sometimes unjustifiably beats himself up when things go wrong and even when they go right he seems to apologise for it. In particular I think he is very unkind to himself and Oxfam over Kosovo; the fact that the politicians gave Milosovec no where to go and wanted to fight him without putting any troops in can hardly be his fault.
This is a serious review of how aid is delivered and how it is affected by the political changes in the world as a whole.