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Reasons to keep the purse closed

I have long thought that the constant tugging of our heart strings to get donations for one disaster or another somewhere in the third world are well intentioned but ultimately futile. While sending funds to help the flood affected in Pakistan may do some small good (and it will be a very small good after the corrupt have taken their slice of the action) in the long term there will be no change to the core problem of poor governance that is the underlying cause of the poverty and suffering. The piece at the Drum that I cite today explains why aid is actually bad for its recipients:

Tom Elliot

Before countries like Australia donate anymore taxpayers’ funds as foreign aid, we need to understand why poverty exists in the first place. Common explanations for this phenomenon include:

Extreme weather events, like drought – Yes, the absence of rain will cause crops to fail, thus hurting agrarian dominated economies. But droughts, unlike poverty, rarely last for decades on end, as we have recently discovered here in Southern Australia;

Natural disasters, like earthquakes – Yes, these can create temporary poverty. But as the experience of the 2004 Boxing Day Tsunami demonstrated, the West is actually pretty good at getting supplies and people into places that require short term assistance. Unfortunately as the Pakistan floods also demonstrate, political will is necessary for such aid to occur;

Wars – Yes, these are responsible for creating much poverty. There’s little evidence, however, that intervention achieves much, if anything. Remember the events dramatised in the film Blackhawk Down? UN and American forces were only in Somalia to try and help distribute aid to starving civilians. Once the shooting became too much to bear, these forces were recalled;

Lack of natural resources – This factor is less important than one might think. As mentioned, Africa is well endowed with many resources, yet remains poor. A place like Singapore, however, has little more than a good deep water harbour yet is extremely wealthy. This is due mainly, I suspect, to the industriousness of its people and the country’s well developed system of law and order.

I am reminded of the image of a band aid being used to treat a gangrenous leg you may be able to suggest that it might do some good but in the real world the only treatment that will actually save the patients life is the judicious use of a surgeon’s  knife and the bone saw. So perhaps the real long-term “cure” for third world poverty is to take a step back and let those societies stand or fall upon their own efforts. Because without the development of good governance and maybe some tough love from the first world places like Africa will never properly sustain its people or give them a future.

Cheers Comrades

1 Comment

  1. greg says:

    I am with you Ian.
    After all. They are only people.
    Let them stand.
    Or fall.
    I’m putting my $ on the falling.

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