By Lisa Vives
Two well-known charities are responding to serious claims of misappropriation of money and sexual harassment during their work in Africa.
In one investigation by the Associated Press, the Red Cross was cited for faulty oversight of workers who may have stolen millions of dollars meant to combat the Ebola outbreak in West Africa.
The deadly Ebola virus that spread throughout West Africa from 2014 to 2016 killed more than 11,000 people and drew numerous aid workers and medical professionals to the continent. Some of those responders, according to a Red Cross internal investigation covered by AP, fraudulently used funds earmarked for aid. Total losses due to fraud topped $6 million, AP claimed.
“I feel disappointed and concerned by the reaction of a few individuals, that their actions detract from the amazing work of the Red Cross staff and volunteers during the Ebola outbreak,” said Paul Jenkins, the head of the delegation for the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.
Earlier this year, however, the organization was again criticized for its relief efforts and handling of funds in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, prompting a Houston city councilman to call donating to the organization a “waste of money”.
Elsewhere in Africa, the director of Oxfam International, Winnie Byanyima, acknowledged that sexual harassment and other claims had been made against seven male Oxfam managers.
The charity’s own figures show that it handled 87 allegations of sexual exploitation by staff in 2016 and 2017, up from 26 cases in 2014.
“We have a very strong safeguarding policy, and in fact the number of reported cases has increased as a result of stronger policy and stronger enforcement,” said Byanyima, “so we see that this is in part a result of moving in the right direction.”
Byanyima said she welcomes the fact “that more women feel safe enough to refuse to accept (sexual abuse), and that is a sign that across the society, it is becoming less acceptable to abuse women, and I think that’s positive.”
But she added: “We are not where we should be, and we are working harder on training our people, setting the system to work, [and] making it safe for people to report.”
Oxfam describes itself as a global anti-poverty organization with headquarters in the UK and U.S.