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A Very British Appeal

Posted by Gez Russell Website Editor

2nd Jul 2013

An Oxfam aid helicopter touches down in Banda Aceh, 2005.

Recommended viewing this week is a fascinating documentary on the work of the Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC), which has just turned 50. This is an extraordinary organisation that brings together all the biggest UK aid agencies, including Oxfam, at times of extreme crisis, and we're very proud to be a member.

A Very British Appeal - 50 Years of the Disasters Emergency Committee, ITV, Tuesday 2 July, 10.35pm

50 years, 62 appeals, £1bn raised

Since 1963, the DEC has run 62 appeals to raise over £1bn from the famously generous UK public, to deliver aid to some of the world's most challenging places, many of which have left an indelible mark on our collective consciousness. The DEC was there to support people living through the tragic events of Biafra in 1967 and the Ethiopian famine of 1984; in the aftermath of the Cambodian and Rwandan genocides; and more recently to help rebuild lives and livelihoods following the Asian tsunami of Boxing Day 2004.

So what makes the DEC so special? When charities come together under the DEC umbrella, we can reach a vast audience. The major broadcasters give us free air time. Celebrity supporters step forward to front the campaign and capture the public imagination. And the major banks and Post Office support us by taking donations. All this raises the potential for fundraising to a new level.

Fly-on-the-wall access

This documentary provides a fascinating insight into the challenges of launching a DEC appeal (let alone the emergency response itself!) with fly-on-the-wall access to the boardroom in the weeks leading up to the current Syria Crisis Appeal.

Veteran aid workers, including several senior figures working on Oxfam's humanitarian responses over the last 30 years, talk about vital lessons learned dealing with some of the world's biggest humanitarian disasters.

Haiti: £107m in action

And Journalist Rageh Omar takes a trip to Haiti (an earthquake here in 2010 killed 220,000 people in a matter of minutes, and left a million homeless) to see how some of the £107m raised by the DEC Haiti Appeal has been put to use.

He reports on the complex challenges that remain: "The trauma's still very, very deep and there are very many who feel they just can't move forward with their lives at all."

But he also comes across DEC money having profound, transformative effects. "I couldn't get over the headmaster's enthusiasm and the powerful impact that something we take for granted [a latrine] has had on the people in this small school."

In Haiti, the DEC has provided toilets and clean water for over 750,000 people, and amongst other things, cash grants for small businesses, paid employment, house-building projects, and disaster preparedness training if (perish the thought) anything like this ever happens again.

Tune in to ITV at 10.35pm tonight - not all of it makes for easy viewing, but if you've ever donated to a DEC Appeal, it should leave you feeling that your generosity has made a genuine difference to people's lives, and in so many cases, given them back their hope for the future.


Related links:

Syria Crisis Appeal

DEC website (external link)

Haiti Earthquake response

Blog post written by Gez Russell

Website Editor

More by Gez Russell