NGOs, disasters, and advocacy: caught between the Prophet and the Shepherd Boy

Is it preferable for aid agencies to listen to their prophetic calling and risk their hard-earned credibility by engaging in advocacy that is intended to avert disasters, or should NGOs instead be wary of calling wolf too often? Written from the perspective of an advocacy practitioner, this article looks at the conflicting pressures on NGOs both to scale-up and to limit advocacy during disasters. It is important to evaluate NGOs' motives and also the impact of their preventive advocacy efforts: whenever advocacy is an issue, questions of accountability, veracity, and legitimacy are never far from the surface. The paper ends with a plea to NGOs to take seriously their credibility as a resource which should be risked, where necessary, as part of the overall humanitarian ethic of saving lives. The dangers of appearing self-serving and misleading are genuine, but ultimately the potential to change dire events is too important to be surrendered lightly. This article is freely available as a chapter in Debating Development: NGOs and the Future.