WHAT IS TO BE DONE                    


AFFECTED NATIONS:  Country-by-country statistics

For a detailed examination of International Development Aid, visit GlobalIssues.Org:  US and Foreign Aid Assistance


For more on International Development Aid, go to GlobalIssues.Org:  US and Foreign Aid Assistance


There is an immediate need for generous and sustained support from the outside world.  Many capable and well-prepared relief organizations, both religious and secular, have been at work on location since the size of the disaster was understood: they need us to participate. The Red Cross Red Crescent, OXFAM, Save the Children, UNICEF, and CARE are just a few of the better known; there are many international relief and development charities to chose from.   Research the charities to which you contribute to ensure that your contributions are going as directly as possible towards the causes you intend.  Following is a list of organizations that evaluate charities, generally by comparing their program, administrative, and fundraising expenditures, and by accessing the efficacy and stability of their programs.

•    American Institute of Philanthropy
•    BBB Wise Giving Alliance
•    Charity Navigator
•    Development Ratings
•    GuideStar
•    Intelligent Giving 

While prompt emergency relief is crucial, long-term considerations are just as important: the insecurity of life in the Sahel will continue and—if the climate change projections come to pass—worsen.  Are there ways to prepare for, mitigate, and counter the inevitable repetition of these crises?  Can we help to stabilize and improve conditions for the people of Africa, or do we allow them to settle into permanent upheaval and destitution?

    This is a call for environmentally sustainable development, a challenge hardly unique to Africa. The myriad possible solutions are intricate and highly interdependent:

  • Food security can be achieved through the development of drought and pest-resistant crops, environmentally sound agricultural techniques, better water resource management, and the restoration of depleted soil.  But this also means addressing desertification, which in turn requires finding alternatives to firewood, the fuel for cooking and heating for an estimated 90% of Africa.
  • Intensified agriculture requires healthy farming communities, which in turn calls for improved living conditions: access to clean drinking water and better sanitation, access to basic health care, and measures to counter endemic disease (such as readily available mosquito netting).
  • Sustainable agriculture and healthier communities lead to more stable populations, which allows for living standards and educations levels to improve.  They also lead to better population distribution and counter migratory pressures. (Migration is also both a result and a contributing factor in interethnic warfare, as groups compete for diminishing resources, especially, in the Sahel, water.)
  • Reduced migration to the cities from the country makes urban growth more manageable, with better planning and services; a well-organized city provides a more efficient nexus for markets, and the site for industry and higher education, enabling the nation’s greater participation in the global economy.
  • Finally, to quote a World Bank “finding”:  Speeding Africa's development of modern education, information, and communication systems, since knowledge that combines science and technology with local know-how, cultural values, and diversity is and will remain vital for addressing environmental issues.

This presents an undertaking of many parts and daunting portions, yet plans, expertise, and dedication are in place.  Local “buy-in” and participation is indispensable, as is the resolve and good will of the developed world. 

But who pays for it?

Americans are enormously generous people; in 2006 individuals donated a record $295 billion to charities, far exceeding corporate donations, which account for a mere 4.3% of the total.  The bulk of this money, however, went to domestic programs, with religious congregations the leading category at 32.8%, followed by educational institutions, foundations, and health institutions. International organizations, including international relief and aid, received only 2.5% in 2005, despite the 19% increase in response to the Indian Ocean tsunami and the Kashmir earthquake.  All the same, private charitable giving dwarfs official aid.

A common misperception in the US is that we are generous —perhaps to a fault—with our aid to foreign countries.Currently the United States Government does in fact donate the most money— almost $23 billion in 2006—but actually ranks 21st on the list of top donor nations, after Italy, donating a mere 0.17% of our Gross National Income.(Sweden, the most generous nation, donates 1.03% of its GNI.) Of the American largess in 2006, approximately 37% went to Middle Eastern and Northern African trouble spots, with Iraq and Afghanistan at the front of the line.Approximately 17%--$3.9 billion—went (or was pledged) to the rest of Africa. Roughly $1.9 billion went to the 18 countries in the September flood zone—about $4 a person.  

 Further diluting any genuine benefit for the recipients of development aid, Official Development Aid (ODA) often distorts and subverts its purported purposes. ActionAid International estimates that as much as 61% of ODA is “phantom aid”—aid that is overpriced, mischaracterized as aid, or does not help poor people.  On top of that, development assistance is often a Trojan horse for other agendas.  

A Global Policy Forum paper states: 

  • “…Aid is primarily designed to serve the strategic and economic interests of the donor countries or to benefit powerful domestic interest groups. Aid systems based on the interests of donors instead of the needs of recipients’ make development assistance inefficient. Too little aid reaches countries that most desperately need it, and, all too often, aid is wasted on overpriced goods and services from donor countries.” (Pekka Hirvonen, August 2005) 

        The Oakland Institute makes this claim:   

  • “In 1995, the director of the U.S. aid agency defended his agency on the basis that 84 cents of every dollar of aid goes back into the U.S. economy in goods and services purchased. In 2000, 71.6% of U.S. bilateral aid commitments were tied to the purchase of goods and services from the U.S.”   

        European aid is marginally less self-serving.

        What can be done the face of such bloated National Interests? 

        Have faith.  Trust that there are many people of insight, skill, and compassion who are dedicated to doing the right thing, and that they have worked to create and sustain alliances and mechanisms to affect positive change. Seek them out and support them. Independent relief and development organizations must often make counterproductive compromises with obstructive forces in order to continue their efforts; do not let this put you off of the goals you share—they do good work in difficult circumstances. 

         Educate yourself.  Be skeptical and probing.  Demand transparency and results, but be patient: improvements can be slow to reveal themselves.  Share information.  Find people who share your concerns and pool your efforts and resources.  Organize and speak out. (If you’ve got information or insights you want to share, let us know, and we’ll try to fit it in.)

        Agitate.  Work for change here at home.  Learn about how America foreign policy affects the welfare of the developing world through aid, trade agreements and lending.  Look for links between pending legislation and local issues, then build coalitions.  Be creative: small vegetable farmers may not seem like obvious partners, but they have a stake in farm and trade policy, which in turn affect farmers in Africa.   Create a flood of your own; one voice won’t counterbalance corporate interests, but hundreds may, and thousands do.  Lobby—it’s not a bad thing when the right people do it!

        And the time is right as never before.  Now that the reality of Global Warming finally seems to be sinking, more people than ever are beginning to understand that we are ALL in this together.  America consumes over 20 million barrels of oil a day.  All together, the eighteen African countries affected by the flooding, with a combined population 158% that of the US, use a mere 3% of that.  We bear a larger responsibility for climate change than they do, but it will be they who suffer the consequences the most, with the fewest resources to protect them.  We have a duty to help them.

       What You Can Do Now!  Learn about the Senate Farm Bill Extension