Friday, August 13, 2010

Why aid and Africa can mix

CNN is running a point-counterpoint debate on aid to Africa. One side says that the aid does more harm than good and should be stopped. The other side of the debate says that aid must continue but needs to be refined.

We linked to the con-side of the argument yesterday. Today, CNN presents the pro-side with commentator Charles Abugre of the United Nations Millennium Challenge Campaign.

The idea that those who have should share with those who don't is inherent in most societies -- insects, animals and humans alike.

Sharing is essential to maintain and protect the collective, and empathy is an essential value of what it is to be human. It is inhuman to watch another dying of hunger and not share when you have more than enough to eat.

International aid is the instrument by which this very human practice occurs in modern times across borders, and should ordinarily not be controversial. But it is -- very much so.

Food aid is the root of the international aid system, although it represents only a small proportion of total aid (three to five percent). Thanks to international emergency response, famines and other natural and human-made disasters no longer kill in the numbers they used to prior to the 1980s.

Food aid saves lives in emergencies but can also create dependencies by destroying local farming capacities when food aid becomes food "dumped" on the local market.

But the biggest area of contestation is so-called development aid. This was made popular by the U.S. support to war-torn Europe and later institutionalized in the post-war international political and economic institutions and applied to countries emerging from colonial occupation.

There are two justifications for so-called development aid: humanitarian and economic.

The humanitarian justification is strongly tied to addressing the moral indignation associated with poverty in a world of immense capabilities and astounding wealth.

Aid can save lives and ameliorate suffering, not just in the short term but in the long term. There is truth in this.

Debilitating diseases such as smallpox, tuberculosis, river blindness or leprosy have been controlled thanks to targeted development aid efforts.

Millions of children in Africa are alive thanks to the control of measles and other vaccinations. Hundreds of thousands more lives have been saved thanks to international cooperation to fight HIV/AIDS and malaria.

There is much greater agreement that targeted aid seems to work better: de-worming, dietary supplements, malaria nets, vaccines, cash transfers to the poor, education subsidies, the use of condoms, urban and rural water provisioning -- these seem to achieve their objectives.

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