August 26, 2005

"You either have an aid bonanza or you have nothing."

The unfortunate dynamics of hunger relief:
Once an emergency is identified, [said Tony Vaux, a former official with Oxfam], the NGOs' public relations machine takes over and "there is a terrible temptation to look around for the very worst stories".

"My concern about this is you either have an aid bonanza or you have nothing. There does not seem to be a middle ground," says Mr Vaux, author of the book The Selfish Altruist.

One problem with dramatic appeals, [Professor William Easterly of New York University] notes, is that they do not give you a big bang for your aid buck.

"The payoff is disappointingly low," he says. Getting the relief effort up and running takes time, and when the food arrives it is often too late - or the crisis has eased on its own, as appears to be the case in Niger.

Emergency aid may relieve the situation - but the same amount spent before children starved in front of the cameras would have saved many more lives.

1 comment:

ALH ipinions said...

Aid to the poor, has always been characterised by feast or famine: feast for brief periods when conditions of extreme (chronic) poverty are highlighted by TV "news" cameras chasing rock stars on do-good missions, between gigs; and famine for the other 350 days of the year.

Alas, the only thing that is shocking about starvation in Ethiopia, Darfur, Niger, Mali is the relief that comes in like a shot of smack to heroin junkie that leaves him withering away until his next fix... But for too many children in Africa, the wait between fixes is often terminal.

Of course, the fact that this is the first comment to this provocative post may reflect the compassion and donor fatigue that excuses our chronic disregard in this context. Enough already! Happy hour is about to begin....