No Food in Niger

People are starving to death in Niger. Why? No one paid attention when they begged the United Nations for aid after the locust swarm last year. They knew this was going to happen. They saw it coming. All they needed was a dollar per person in need. Now they need at least 8 because these people must be given health care as well. The harvest isn’t for weeks and people aren’t getting any less hungry. MSNBC has a list of organization accepting donations to avert the crisis.

This crisis brings up some questions. Why do we respond to tragedies rather than preventing them? Why do we only provide food rather than including the education needed for people in starving areas to find ways to feed themselves? Are we less able to care about the plight of the world with the economic problems we are facing? Have we forgotten that sometimes personal sacrifice is necessary to provide for the common good?


16 Responses to “No Food in Niger”

  1. 1 NSC 68
    August 5, 2005 at 1:17 pm

    PC, again, an interesting question. Clearly your questions have few concrete answers. Looking at this from a global perspective, one can concretely state that most countries far outstrip the United States in terms of action and dollars given, in both a relavtive and an absolute measurement.

    That, however, is only part of the problem. I think that one of the issues that plagues donors throughout the world (and for every issue and crisis) is the question: “What am I getting for my money? How am I really helping?” When donors ask those questions, they sometimes do not like the answers they are getting. Now, I am not talking simply in terms of efficiency and some cold statistic like “dollars spent vs. people helped” because you don’t help people just because it is efficient. I am examining the problem from the perspective of “are we actually helping?”

    If you look at Africa, it has had these problems for many, many years. Countries, the UN, the OSCE, the Arab League, and the EU have donated billions of dollars to fight poverty and some of it has done a lot of good (check out irrigation farms in Eritrea and Ethiopia.) Some of it, however, not matter how well-intentioned, does more harm than good. Giving money to these governments, as the UN is MANDATED to do, means that most of the money does not end up helping people, but goes to line the pockets of the leadership.

    In Somalia, the UN decided it would finally step up and not give money, but rather it would provide food aid. It turned out that a number of warlords in the area simply collected all the food in one place, brought in their henchmen, and essentially required tribute from people in order to get it (talk about Rome, huh!) That did not work, because the UN was not allowed to take the food back with force, or prevent the food from being taken. Their mandate was simply to deliver it.

    I agree that personal sacrifice is required for the common good. That is why I give blood; tutor at DC schools; coach little kids in soccer. I am willing to do those things because I know that every minute I spend is time (money) spent doing good. Every minute is accounted for.

    What needs to happen, is simply that the UN (and especially the US) needs to reexamine how it distributes food aid. Instead of delivering money and aid on a macro level, aid should be distributed to small, local, EFFECTIVE groups (studies have shown that small, local groups have much larger effect on communities than broad organizations.) Money should be put into escrow for governments and they should be held accountable for every penny. If they do not agree, their should be a penalty for non-compliance. I have not come up with a penalty that does not also affect the people of the country, but I am sure somebody smarter than I can help out–any ideas folks?

    It is not simply a problem of apathy; it is not simply a problem of selfishness; it is a real problem of “where is my money going?” You would not donate money to a relief effort when you knew that its CEO had golden Rolls Royces and took first-class trips around the world (like that guy from the kidney foundation in Hong Kong or Singapore…yikes!) because you could not be sure how much of your donation went to the people who needed it, and how much went to “overhead”

    I am sure you are aware of all of these things, but I simply think you are looking at the problem from a supply side. Without a stable infrastructure, and a government that cares about helping, help from outside is not going to get very far.

    My final thought is purely economic. These countries have to learn the value of property rights and property ownership. A study was done in the early 1990s (if I can find it I will link it) where economists examined the famines of the century and looked at the economies of those countries. What they found was that none of the countries that faced faimine had codified property rights in their laws. That is, people could take your land by force, and there was nothing that said such a thing was wrong. So land was overused, misused, etc. What’s more, they found that NO COUNTRIES with such property rights codified in law EVER faced famine. It all comes back to teaching these people to fish, instead of simply giving them one.

  2. 2 BarbaraFromCalifornia
    August 5, 2005 at 3:40 pm

    Great questions:

    Also, why has the US and other nations ignored aid to Africa? Why not pull out of Iraq, spend the money for more worthy causes, abroad and at home. If Bush thinks that he has spread democracy to Iraq, he is deluding himself.

  3. 3 NSC 68
    August 5, 2005 at 3:55 pm

    BFC, I agree that we should pull out of Iraq and spend the money elsewhere, but read my comment: Nobody has ignored Africa. As a matter of fact, Africa has gotten more aid at times than other, more-deserving areas of the world. Money spent on Africa is just often misused by those in power who receive it. Unfortunately, as with all good causes, it only takes one or two bad experiences to taint it for everyone. There are great stories of success from aid to Africa but they are too few and far between.

    As for the US and other nations ignoring aid to Africa, I think the EU, some non-EU European nations, as well as Japan would be pretty upset that you think that the billions of dollars they have spent is just “ignoring.” Check out the percentage of GDP that EU countries and Japan spend on aid to Africa. It is not fair to lump them in with the United States.

  4. 4 The Zombieslayer
    August 5, 2005 at 7:32 pm

    As cold as this may sound, I wouldn’t want to give any aid that’s not accompanied with contraceptives. Much of these problems are caused by overpopulation.

    Africa was doing fine before all the vaccinations. It was then that the populations started spiralling faster than they could feed themselves.

    Right now we have major problems especially in the Sahel (sp?) region of Africa of desertification, where the desert is growing because of overpopulation, overcultivation, and overgrazing on soils that cannot take it.

    If we do not address the problems of overpopulation, we will just continue the misery. I realize your intentions are wonderful. But we must address the real issue first.

  5. 5 tshsmom
    August 5, 2005 at 11:53 pm

    You beat me to it, ZS!

  6. 6 Daniel Hoffmann-Gill
    August 6, 2005 at 12:17 pm

    I can’t quite believe what ZS is suggesting but maybe he’d prefer it if a few more of them died before we gave them aid.

    Maybe we should send death sqauds out there?

  7. 7 United We Lay
    August 6, 2005 at 3:33 pm

    We’re the ones who imparted Christianity to them, and that is their main hang up with condoms. We helped make the mess over there. I agree that we need to teach them about contraception, but not while killing them by not providing food.

  8. 8 Clear headed
    August 7, 2005 at 11:01 am

    Evangelical Christians do not teach people to have a “hang up” with condoms. I believe you’re thinking of the Catholic denomination, and they are not the group that “imparted Christianity to them.” Catholics typically do not evangelicalize the nations, therefore that assumption doesn’t carry much weight.

    I understand you don’t like Christians as a group and don’t believe in God, but everything that’s wrong in the world isn’t because of something they believe or do.

  9. 9 United We Lay
    August 7, 2005 at 4:33 pm

    Al ot of what’s wrong with America has to do with the Christianity, but that’s another post. That doesn’t mean I believe that Christians are bad people. I am ideologically opposed and have found no reason not to be. Christian groups, and you’re right, Catholic groups as well, refuse to send aid to Africa unless the aid organization teaches abstinence only with regard to its sexual health classes. If you don’t believe me, feel free to look it up.

  10. 10 The Zombieslayer
    August 7, 2005 at 5:35 pm

    PC – Yeah, I’m well aware of that. It’s pretty sick. If you say the A-word (not abstinence), you get cut off from funding.

  11. 11 United We Lay
    August 8, 2005 at 1:31 am

    Also true, adn also unfair. The problem is tha even liberals are wrong on this front. Right now, these people need food. For God’s sake, give them some food and teach them to raise food. Who the hell cares what the ideology of the organization providing the aid is? Let’s get them fed first. Next we can work on sexual health and AIDS prevention. Let’s just keep them from starving to death tonight.

  12. 12 United We Lay
    August 8, 2005 at 1:33 am

    PS – Given my corretion of spelling on someone else’s comment, I should not that my dog jumped on my computer and I’m having problems with certain keys. Please excuse typos. I feel sheepish.

  13. 13 NSC 68
    August 8, 2005 at 12:48 pm

    PC…no need to feel awkward after your dog hops up on the keyboard. I usually type from work, so my typos are never animal-related…just me-related, so I have no excuse!!:)

    I notice that we seem to be moving off topic, here, and you did a good job of bringing us back. The primary question you asked was, essentially, “why are we not giving food aid?” I think I addressed (or tried to address) some of the concerns with providing such aid. The major one is simply that it does not get to the people who need it most. ZS obviously has his view, and I find it difficult to argue with that. However, you (and some others) immediately turned it into a religious issue, which ignores some key points. 1) Before Christianity came, Animism ruled Africa, and they still were not using contraception, so Christianity and the views that came with it, did not take away necessarily (I very consciously add this qualifier!) the ability or right to birth control. Remember also that many years before the world would ever see JC poking around, Jewish tradition has it that Solomon slept with an Ethiopian queen, and the first African Jewish race/culture began. This is why Israel allows certain Ehtiopian tribes the right of return, because they are direct descendants of Solomon and a Jewish mother (the queen converted).

    You very accusingly say that “we” brought Christianity to Africa. Seeing that you are (from what I know) an American and a Buddhist, you cannot include youself in that group, so why use the first person plural? YOu make some spurious generalizations, and there is no need for it. Christianity spread not because of Bush, or even Monroe, but because of the nature of the religion in its infancy.

    So, after my short digression, we return to the issue. Food aid will not be as effective as you like, until somebody takes control of the area and benevolently handles distribution (or, we start ignoring sovereignty and do it ourselves or with the UN, but that would likely not get your support.)

    I love your questions because you throw your thoughts out there in a very open way. It forces me to think hard about responses. My posts are long because I usually like to hit the library or something after reading your questions (or some coworkers in this case who work with the UN) to get more information. You talk so much about the importance of discussion, but it never seems to me that your commenters really address the issues of your posts. Obviously this is an open way of expressing one’s self, so there are really no restrictions other than those you would want to impose. I just wonder sometimes if we, as commenters, ever help you work out an issue. These comments strings look less and less like a conversation, and more and more like disparate views on a topic, loosely connected with a key word. Do we help? Do we all actually read each others comments as well as your whole posts? Do we bloggers just kid ourselves that we are making a difference, when all we are really doing is soapboxing our own issues on different blogs? I myself am a blogger with no country (i.e. blog) so I have no leg to stand on, but that is my question: PC, do we offer anything in the way of discussion for you? Do you read the comments on your blog and feel better about things because of discussion, or does it just reinforce your point made a few blogs back that we no longer discuss hard issues…we just get lost in our own worlds and then talk about Desperate Housewives to avoid reality.

    Anyway, a heavy post for Monday morning, but I am always interested in your thoughts!

    I am aching from a soccer tournament this weekend, so I am going to go nurse my wounds with a good hot chocolate and try and hide from real work for a while.

  14. 14 United We Lay
    August 8, 2005 at 3:51 pm

    I think some of the questions I ask are problems with no real answers. My goal is to raise awareness of the issues facing us and spurn discussion about them and other things. Sometimes I get some good discussion and sometimes I don’t. I do learn a lot from the comments. Even if I don’t resolve a question, I learn a lot about people from the way they respond. Some peeople get immediately defensive whenever any question is asked. Some people give their opinion. Other people, like you and me, want to find answers and are truly interested in learning from all kinds of people and growing in our knowledge of the world around us.

    I think people worry too much about the difference they may or may not be making on a world scale and neglect the small, ordinary things they can do every day to make a difference. See my post: So what do we do? How many people here will actually do these things in their community? I will. You might. But we can’t count on other people. We, as Americans, need to stop thinking someone else can do it better and take matters into our own hands. I can lead by example in my life and in my classroom. What else can I do?

    Finally, you’re right. I can’t include myselfs as a Chirstian, but many American groups are still bringing Christianity and not much more to Africa. These people don’t need religion. They need FOOD. That’s really all that concerns me about Africa right now. I have a link to The One Campaign which focuses on education and health care as well as food, and I think it’s the best African Aid organization out there right now. I encourage people to contribute, or, if they can, to volunteer, though I think Americans should save their volunteer hours to help improve our social problems.

    I relaize I have been a little hard on Christianity lately. It’s probably childishness. I am a recovering Catholic and I still have some animosity. I was locked in a closet by my first grade Catholic school teacher and told I was evil. Christians are not bad people. Those that truly follow their religious principals are loving, generous people, of tthe kind I hope will help me in my quest to better America. So, to all of the Christians I have offended, I apologize. I really do. I am human and I am learning. Please forgive me.

  15. 15 NSC 68
    August 8, 2005 at 5:18 pm

    PC, no need to ever apologize for your views, when they are expressed as politely as you always express them

    I, myself, am an aetheist, so no worries there.

    Thanks for addressing the points.

  16. 16 United We Lay
    August 9, 2005 at 8:27 pm

    I slip up. If I were to have a gravestone it would be “I was human”.

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I am not perfect. I do my best to practice what I preach, but I am human. My mantra is, "DO NO HARM". I may not always succeed, but I will always try. My goal is to be a better person today than I was yesterday.

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