TR ADITIONALLY voluntary agencies such as the Red Cross, the United Nations Refugee Fund and Caritas Internat ion alis have gone round after wars, floods and famines picking up the shattered pieces of life and limb.
They have taken food, medical supplies, temporary homes and human compassion to millions of people in the wake of ever-increasing bloodshed and destruction.
Despite the knowledge that politicians were simultaneously planning even more destruction, they have plodded on against hopeless odds, reassuring themselves that it was "all worth while" because it was the people who counted, not the politicians and not the governments they represented.
Last week in a London hotel the leaders of most of the world's biggest voluntary agencies decided that, in the now famous words of Cecil King, "enough is enough."
Heeding the advice of Cardinal Heenan at their opening session they unanimously agreed to abandon their traditional rule of political neutrality and noninvolvement.
After hearing a weeklong round of first-hand reports of "rescue" operations from the Middle East, Nigeria, Vietnam, the Sudan and Tibet some 200 delegates at the triennial conference of the International Council of Voluntary Agencies decided to go all out to exert whatever political pressure they could to halt the alarming increase in refugees, homeless people and innocent bystanders in the flare-ups which are now part of the daily newspaper diet.
People —not politics — will still be their principal concern but, to their cost, workers in the world's refugee camps, shanty towns and racial ghettoes have realised that without the financial and political backing of governments, big business and the international monetary system, their efforts are in vain.
As an example. There are thousands more refugees in Palestine now than in 1948. Although the peasants in Vietnam suffered terrible deprivation before 1965, now they have been subjected to the most agonising loss of their families, homes and means of a livelihood.
A working party at the conference went into the problem with the knowledge that political involvement could be "hazardous." After examining all the pros and cons they said:
"Political pressure is an effective means of influencing donor government policy and spending on assistance, in spite of the fact that some agencies may have legal difficulties in being involved in political activity."
BY A STAFF REPORTER This statement had in mind organisations like Oxfam, whose status as a "charity" debars them from political activity. However, the people working for Oxfam know the real frustration of raising a record sum for aid, and then being told that their elected government is cutting back overseas aid by a figure which means the beneficiary receiving far less.
The failure of the UNCTAD conference in New Delhi earlier this year had an important influence on the thinking of all delegates at the conference.
UNCTAD showed clearly that the rich countries of the world were not prepared to face up to sacrifices to help the poor.
Mgr. Joseph Harnett, of the Catholic Relief Service, rapporteur for the working group on emergency aid, told delegates that aid from voluntary agencies, although less than that from
government and inter-government sources, was nevertheless very considerable.
In the last four years, for instance, the United States had contributed as much as £20 million from its voluntary agencies. Britain, too, had been another big donor with more than f 1 million.
"Still, despite these commendable efforts, it had been found that disaster emergency relief assistance was very often needed long after the initial enthusiasm of assisting agencies had cooled off."
This was a continuing theme in the minds of delegates: this lack of sustained effort.
It was pointed out that when people heard of the Tet offensive in Vietnam which overnight made a million new refugees, they gave generously to appeals for food and money.
Now, several months later, the refugees are still without their homes, means of livelihood and, quite often, their families and relatives, but they are being forgotten.
The initial burst of compassion has leaked away.
Besides the statistics of refugee misery the confer ence took a long hard look at the future of both the haves and the have-nots.
Because of the "population explosion" delegates stressed the need for accu rate information on family planning and population problems, as well as food production. Deep concern was expressed by some of the delegates about the continued "brain drain" from the undeveloped to the developed countries.
Indian and Pakistani doctors, dentists and nurses come in their hundreds to Britain, yet in their own countries, their services are even more desperately needed.
Many villages have no medical aid whatsoever, while for most Britons the shortage means .a slightly longer queue in the doctor's waiting room,