Thursday, 28 June 2007

Poverty: who is responsible

For the past 50 years aid agencies have been sending billions of dollars-worth of aid to Africa, propping up, often corrupt, governments, creating markets for the products of the industrialised world, dumping unwanted surpluses, and distorting local economies and creating dependency. Droughts and other catastrophes, both natural and man-made occur, and will continue to occur, at regular intervals, and the aid agencies launch emergency appeals to save the starving, to send food, medicines, shelter etc. And meanwhile the human population continues to grow, further outstripping local resources. Millions of people are forced into urban slums or refugee camps, where they become totally dependent on further aid.

When an aid agency rushes in, does it ever consider the long term consequences? Or the ecological implications? Now don't get me wrong, I am not saying we should not show compassion, but when compassion is highly selective, and politically or economically motivated, then I think searching questions should be asked.

None of the aid agencies, whether government funded or NGOs are consistent in the way they apply their criteria. They are always making subjective judgements on where to send their limited funding. They are already 'playing god' -- all I am suggesting is that the short term tactics should always consider the long term strategic implications of aid; and in particular the ecological aspects, as in many cases the human population is part of that ecosystem. This is very rarely considered, and as a consequence, throughout the world impoverished populations continue to grow at an alarming rate. When disasters strike they will cause untold misery and suffering -- surely it is just another form of genocide? Most aid to Africa appears to be used to treat the symptoms of poverty not the causes. To use a single example close to my heart -- goats and livestock are given to poor farmers to alleviate hunger. But the cause of the poverty is often the habitat destruction caused by too high a human population, which in turn owns too many grazing animals, which are destroying the very resource on which livestock depends -- as well as displacing entire ecosystems.


SS Bob, Bono and others may believe they can 'make poverty history'. Personally I think this is an utter delusion if you try and do it with aid, whether it is food or cash. And history is on my side. Aid the way it is delivered by most western agencies is another form of imperialism -- thrusting our values on unrelated cultures. What appears superficially altruistic is in fact far from it. As many more qualified than I have pointed out most foreign aid benefits the donor country more than the intended recipients.

And finally, have any of the agencies, and altruistic individuals claiming to want to wipe out poverty actually thought what the implications are? How much water, how much energy, how much food is needed? Where will it come from? I personally do not believe in miracles. I am a rationalist. And if you look at these issues rationally, there simply are not enough resources to go round.

1 comment:

  1. I was pleased to see Sir David raise the problem of where we find the resources to "Make Poverty History"