24 Feb 2005

Save the Children Fund in Fiji alarmed at drought effects

2:49 pm on 24 February 2005

The Save the Children Fund in Fiji has expressed serious concern with the response of government ministers to its report on the plight of nearly 8,000 children in the drought stricken west.

The report said the children were going to school hungry, did not have money for lunch or books and were in danger of dropping out of the school system.

But the minister for education, Ro Teimumu Kepa, cast doubts on the accuracy of the report.

And the minister for poverty alleviation, Adi Asenaca Caucau, said NGOs should do their research and make quiet recommendations, rather than going to the media.

She said the method and findings of the Save the Children Fund's report was flawed and failed to stand up to public scrutiny.

But the fund's national director in Fiji, Irshad Ali, says the politics of relief for the disadvantaged are a matter of concern because the two ministers refuse to accept the social impact of the situation in Fiji.

Mr Ali says the two ministries have taken an approach of denial, perhaps because within their vision poverty does not exist and a drought never affects children.

He says if the education system and the poverty alleviation programmes were effective, NGO-based services would not exist.

Mr Ali says NGOs play a critical role in Fiji because they provide services where the government cannot, and the NGOs serve the poor and the disadvantaged in a much more effective way.

He says the inability of ministers to act on good advice and to develop a strategic partnership with NGOs is a poor display of leadership.