Thursday, 25 August 2011

The unexpected effects of regular aid

Story on the BBC about the Horn of Africa famine:

Quote: "Correspondents say several African governments have faced criticism for their lack of response, and Aid agency Oxfam says only a handful of African countries have donated money so far."

What the BBC reports there on a national level is what we see on a local level. It's the effect of regular, institutionalised aid. We see it often in Western-helped churches, pastors and with individuals. Those who regularly get aid in sums far above their local earnings learn to depend upon it. They learn that in need, someone will help them out. And gradually the definition of "need" changes, so that they learn that others will pay and they don't have to. They learn who the important people they really need to serve and keep happy are: when needed, the foreigners will be paying, not the local "little people". This causes leaders to become proud and aloof from their people, and the people to learn that they are pawns, not significant players. It's inevitable: the money talks and sets the agenda, however much you try to wish otherwise.

The aid-givers believe that aid helps. But when dependency comes in, aid harms, again and again. It weakens the local people by teaching them that someone else will pay - and when that becomes a long-term mind-set, as it has in many churches, it becomes crippling and the church is doomed to long-term weakness. It's much harder to reverse the mindset once its set in than to never let it to begin with. The above quote is a testimony to that: there's a dire crisis, and the local response from governments is lethargic. (Note: I take the quote at face value for the purposes of this post, I am a very grateful guest in my adopted country and it is not my purpose or role to provide political commentary).

Aid should be for can't-eat-or-drink dire emergencies (like the present food crisis), not as a long-term strategy. Many times I've heard "we're happy to give, they say they can use it, what's the problem?". If you lived here from day to day, the problem would be obvious to you and would break your heart. Unneeded aid makes the giver feel good and is easy to give for wealthy Westerners - but as a regular rule, causes long-term damage to the recipients. It's easy to give - but to undo the attitudes that the unnecessary giving has caused will take at least a generation.

1 comment:

Paula said...

there is a book written by prizewinning journalists Nicholas D Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn, called 'half the sky'.
They also acknowledge the inefficiency and corruption of large aid organisations but also admitting evangelical Christians are at the forefront of many successful community wealth generating projects.
Worth a read.