Tag Archives: humanitarian

Donating Food, Wasting Money

21 Sep

Who does US food aid help most?

Here’s another one for the annals of pseudo-altruistic aid: turns out that for every dollar of US taxpayer money spent on food aid for Africa, a dollar goes into the pockets of the American shipping companies that take it there. That’s the finding of a new study from Cornell University as reported by IRIN News.

In a nutshell,  75 percent of US food aid is required to be shipped on privately owned, US registered vessels, even if they do not offer the most competitive rates. Result: lots of cash wasted to subsidize the American shipping industry.

“About 20 years ago the US Government Accountability Office (GAO), an independent investigative arm of Congress, looked at the costs of shipping food aid in US-flag vessels rather than using cheaper foreign ships, and estimated that it cost $150 million each year. Another report in 1994 put the cost as high as $200 million a year”, adds IRIN. And how much more might they save by buying food from closer-by sources, rather than shlepping our surplus stuff halfway across the world?


The Real Problem with the Gaza Blockade

9 Jun

Much more important than the back-and-forth about Israel’s (lethally bungled) raid on a boatload of (deliberately provocative) protesters trying to bring humanitarian aid to the Gaza Strip is the bigger question it raises: what to do about the blockade? Without a doubt, its critics are right to say it inflicts terrible human suffering on civilian Palestinians. But it’s also a fact that without it, Hamas would smuggle in even more rockets to lob at Israeli civilians, not to mention whatever other weapons they could get their hands on to help further their goal of wiping Israel off the map.

But here’s another fact about the Gaza blockade: as a tactic, it just doesn’t work. This kind of attempt to pressure another nation into doing your will by squeezing them materially almost never does. It pretty much only ends up hurting innocent civilians. The economic sanctions imposed on  Serbian-controlled Yugoslavia during the Bosnian war didn’t make Belgrade stop supporting Bosnia’s genocidal Serbs. They just made life incredibly difficult for ordinary people, without changing the behavior of their leaders at all. Ditto the sanctions on Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. Ditto, for that matter, the bombing of civilian centers in World War Two. (There might be a case to make about sanctions having helped end  apartheid in South Africa, but to me that looks more like they at best hastened something that was inevitable anyway. Very different from these other situations.)

If anything, this kind of collective punishment tends to make the locals rally around their leaders, not seek their overthrow. There’s nothing to suggest Hamas is losing popular support in Gaza because of the blockade – probably the opposite. I don’t know what the solution is, but it’s pretty obvious the status quo just isn’t working, and never will.

One of the Gaza flotilla ships, impounded in Ashdod. Thanks, Guardian.co.uk.

Bouncing Back Five Years After the Tsunami

20 May

A rare bit of good news in the massive international disaster category: five years after the tsunami, Banda Aceh, one of the hardest-hit parts of Indonesia is in some ways doing better than ever, according to Canada’s Globe and Mail. In a nutshell, not only did the billions of dollars in foreign reconstruction aid actually help, but the catastrophic destruction pretty much ended the 30-year war between the Indonesian government and the separatist Free Aceh Movement. Since then, “about 140,000 new houses have been built, along with 1,700 schools, as well as hundreds of mosques, airports and government buildings.”

Bottom line, writes the Globe’s Mark MacKinnon: international aid “has transformed an impoverished, war-torn hellhole into a bustling city of 210,000 people who believe the world cares about them.”

Aceh before and after the tsunami.(image from Digitalglobe)