Posts Tagged ‘foreign aid’

Hunger in Africa – Poverty, Drought, Corruption – Give a Hungry Man a Fish and He Lives for a Day

Tuesday, February 23rd, 2010

Hunger is a monstrous crisis. And like many current crises, it is unnecessary. “World agriculture produces 17% more calories per person today than it did 30 years ago, despite a 70% population increase. This is enough to provide everyone in the world with at least 2,720 kilocalories per person per day” (FAO 2002 p.9). Regardless, there are over 1.02 billion malnourished people worldwide. This represents a 17% increase in the number of malnourished from 2006. Things are not getting better. They have gotten worse. The recent global financial slump has contributed to the increase in malnourished populations; however, it is only a recent contribution and the more enduring issues of systemic poverty, conflict, and climate change have played a crucial role in perpetuating global hunger. Though there is sufficient food to feed the world over, solving global hunger is more than a matter of redistribution. The social and economic systems that sustain global hunger must be curbed and local solutions carried out. There is hope and a lighthouse guiding the world to the alleviation of hunger. We know from our past actions what has failed and we know from foresight what will prevail. The state of world hunger seems to be deteriorating, but I have hope and faith that, with the smart aid, hunger (specifically in Africa) can be curtailed, diminished, and eradicated.


In Africa alone, 307 million people are malnourished. Forty-two nations receive aid from the World Food Programme and other Western powers pour billions, into ending global hunger. Just this past July, Obama pooled $20 billion from the world’s richest nations to be used for the reduction hunger in Africa. Yet, Ethiopia (one of the world’s largest recipients of aid) still has 6.2 million malnourished people in it’s country. Sudan, Somalia, Niger, and Chad, too receive plush amounts of aid, yet have devastating numbers of malnourished. Kenya, one of the most developed nations on the continent as well as a large receiver of aid, has 3.6 million malnourished people and that number is expected to rise. The problem is obviously not lack of money. The problem is misdirected use of money and an perpetuating intersection of poverty, drought, and corruption.

Poverty is the principle cause of  hunger – as well as a direct effect of hunger. Poverty and hunger are so entwined that neither can be solved individually. Without money, farmers lack the buying power to purchase seed, farming tools, and fertilizer. Without these necessities, they are unable to produce a sufficient food to turn a profit. The effect of this is two fold. The farmer’s poverty and hunger grows and the reduced supply of food to urban markets increases the prices, pulling urban poor who are unable to purchase the higher-priced food into malnourishment and hunger. Furthermore, drought exacerbates the problem.

The drought and subsequent famine of 1984 in Ethiopia claimed over a million lives. While some say that the drought never left, it is evident that the drought has returned with a full-fledged famine. There are currently 6.2 million people in Ethiopia who are malnourished and the famine is expected to raise that number to 14 million – in Ethiopia alone. In Kenya, the famine has severely threatened the lives of 3.6 million people. And Somalia has another 3.8 million people affected. In total, there are 23 million people in the Horn of Africa and Eastern Africa who have been affected. There is simply not enough water to produce a good harvest. And when rain does arrive, the sun-baked earth does not immediately absorb the water, rather causes flash floods and outbreaks of cholera. Farmers can’t grow enough food to even feed their family. They are forced to cultivate cash crops in hope of turning a minimum profit with which they can buy fertilizer that will hopefully provide a better harvest next season. “They are essentially going hungry so that they can feed the country.” But even those in urban settings do not walk away unscathed. They must compete for jobs in slums so that they can pay the inflated food prices. Furthermore, the hungry in cities are often overlooked while food aid and donors flock to the rural communities. Children in slums like Kibera, a shanty-slum of 600,000-1.2 million outside of Nairobi, Kenya, drop out of school to work or beg so that they to pay the 130% inflated price of maize (over one year’s time) and the ever-increasing prices of water. Regardless, there is hope.

Drought does not need to mean hunger and destitution. If communities have irrigation for crops, grain stores, and wells to harvest rains then they can survive, despite what the elements throw at them.” Irrigation, grain stores, and wells require money, however,  and, once again, poverty stands in the way. Yet the same poverty that is preventing these people from building famine preventative infrastructure, was caused  by the previous poor harvest and famine. The cycle seems interminable – until someone steps in to provide the infrastructure these communities need. That someone is government.

The urban crisis [and famine] is not just about poverty – it is about governance,” Oxfam reportedly said. Governments have the responsibility of providing fundamental social services to it’s citizens. In a country susceptible to drought, this includes irrigation infrastructure, grain stores, and rain water wells. However, very few governments have provided any of these resources to their people. In Somalia, there is no functional central government to provide these resources. In Kenya, the government is “paralyzed by infighting and political maneuvering.” And in Ethiopia, the government is, both, trying to maintain its good image from its successes in health care, education, and counter terrorism, and trying to undermine its citizens through corrupt, profit-driven deals. It’s desire for a positive image has led it to gloss over the famine by reporting (relatively) low numbers of people affected and making the definition of people at risk more exclusive. It has also tried to hide the severity of the famine through banning aid from reaching specific severely-affected regions. Backroom politics has highlighted the government’s lack of interest in curtailing the famine. Hundreds of bags of maize disappeared from the Ethiopian reserve and then reappeared in Sudan a month later, leading a lot of people to suspect that deals were made behind closed doors. Furthermore, the government has marketed Ethiopia in the new business of land-leasing, where large, rich foreign investors can rent vast plots of lands on 44-99 year contracts. The contracts have nearly no safeguards and foreign investors buy them purely for profit. The effectively take land away from local farmers, employ local residents under extremely brutal conditions, sell their crops to foreign nations for profit, and deplete the soil of nutrients. These are not the kinds of contracts a government interested in its people should be offering.

If it were not for corruption, the drought and the poverty could be (more-easily) resolved. But without the necessary functions of the state happening, the impact of both is increased and perpetuated. “Ethiopia’s famine today is a famine of food scarcity as much as it is a famine of democracy and good governance.” African governments must take responsibility and ownership for their states. I they want to become a respected global voice, they must end corruption and end their dependency on aid .

As outsiders from the West, we must be cautious in our critique and support of African nations. Too often aid has been given in ways that only increase dependency, circumvent governments, and enable corruption. The West is not culpable for the existing corruption, but it has not given support that leads towards independent, sustainable nations. “Continued food and agricultural support, coupled with falling [crop] production, have led some to believe that aid might actually be the root of the problem.” Food handouts increase dependency through creating disincentives to produce and providing short-term fixes to problems that need long-term solutions. Africa does not need more food, it needs more ways to consistently cultivate its own food.

It’s extremely challenging and a great moral conundrum to critique food handouts when lives are at stake. And I, in no way, believe that food handouts should be stopped, rather they should be accompanied by long-term solutions. It is easy to ideologically critique these different forms of aid, but when the reality that this aid saves a person’s mother, father, son, or daughter from dying is realized the disadvantages of any aid seem inconsequential. So it is with great respect and appreciation that I say, there is a better way.

Handouts cannot be expected to prepare these countries for the next famine. The international community must begin to fund projects which build irrigation infrastructure, wells for rain water, teach efficient methods of cultivation, and inspire autonomy of communities . The calamities of hunger and drought in Africa are not our burden and we should not carry the weight. The international aid community acts out of compassion for Africa, not obligation. It would be immoral to cease all aid merely because we are not obligated. Aid and exchange should always be occurring. We should always be in a flux of giving and receiving (even in times of prosperity) – giving the skills and lessons we have learned from our culture and experience and receiving the skills and lessons of another. We should be working to create autonomy and sustainability in African nations, which is why funding needs to be given to projects that pursue these goals.

The international community would be equally flawed if it built the preventative infrastructure of irrigation, wells, and grain stores. Although we would be establishing preventative measures for the next drought, it would still be us establishing them. Africa needs to help Africa -and we need to help Africa help itself. Funding should be targeted towards local, African projects which are building sustainable preventative infrastructure. Only then, do we truly help establish an equal, autonomous, independent Africa.

Though the intertwinement of hunger with large socio-political problems exacerbates the issue and makes it appear hopeless, it is not. There is abounding hope that Africa will make it through this crisis and then through the next. It is hope that lies behind all forms of aid and it is hope that feeds the starving souls of those who can’t find enough to eat, providing them the determination to make it through another day and to another meal. I have hope that the international community, specifically the large aid donors, will recognize the cycle of dependence they are caught in and will begin to teach their recipients how to fish.

Ending Charity: alone, is not the answer

Sunday, November 22nd, 2009

“Giving in its purest form expects nothing in return.” – Anonymous

There are a lot of confusing buzzwords being thrown around these days: ending charity, dead aid, patient capitalism, impatient optimists, and investment over aid. What does it all mean?

My initial thoughts on this subject were spurred by zyOyz founder Steve Jennings’ repost of an article titled: “Charity alone not the answer to tackling poverty”. Well I agreed with the article’s basic premise that just giving money is not the only solution or the best, I was troubled by the article’s absolute statements that business models and capitalism will save the world.

The article, reposted from the Financial Times, notes the work of the Acumen Fund founded by Jacqueline Novogratz, which invests in small businesses with a social impact termed as “patient capital.” It has become a highly successful model, however Novogratz is quoted as saying: “We need creative approaches to reinvigorate capitalism and make it more inclusive.” The most inclusive business model that I know, with high degrees of success, is the cooperative model based on needs of those involved, inclusion, and participation. Looking at history, capitalism has generated exclusion: great amounts of wealth for many people, but it has also perpetuated extremely flawed systems that create great degrees of poverty for many people. The evidence is in any major city where the consequences of capitalism lay bare the desperation of good people who are left with nothing.

At the root of the article, “Charity alone not the answer to tackling poverty,” is the long-running debate on whether investment is more effective than aid. Professor Bill Easterly made popular the fact (through his book, “White Man’s Burden”) that over $1 trillion in aid has been given to Africa over the last 50 years with limited positive results, Dambisa Moyo has termed this “dead aid” and calls for a complete end of aid to Africa. Others like Bill and Melinda Gates, who have given vast amounts of aid (which they often call “investment”) to Africa with their foundation, label themselves as “impatient optimists.” They are hopeful for the future and want more done at the present time.

However, there is a problem with their impatience that many have critiqued. Impatience tends to push solutions that are ineffective. Ian Wilhelm gets further into this topic in a blog about “irrational aid.” In the post he writes about Alanna Shaikh’s critique of ineffective aid, such as outdated pharmaceuticals and medical equipment that has no use in the field. This argument is countered by Isaac Holeman’s disagreement that well that aid may be irrational, it provides immediate personal stories of need to bring in more donors. I have to agree with Alanna in saying that this irrational, possibly impatient, aid does more harm and basically no good.

How have we now moved from decrying the failures of charity and aid to highlighting the benefits of business models and the capitalist system back again to smiling about greater benefits of monetary investment in people and ideas? Where is the line drawn between investment and aid? As far as I can tell it is mostly semantic. Isn’t aid when transparent, effective, and driven by best practices an investment? Giving an investment is essentially the same as giving aid or charity.

Investment is the buzzword used by social enterprises, microfinance, and has become the new fad in international development organizations. I think that it is important to make a distinction between what is effective and what is not. Aid can be very effective and investment can be very ineffective. The reverse is also true. Where does effective aid change from being a type of investment? When experts talk about the broken aid system do they forget that the broken aid system is merely a reflection of the broken financial system. The same interests and individuals who have run financial systems have run foreign aid systems.

The real issue in this debate need not be if businesses are better than charities or who’s money is better spent. What is most important needs to be the question of, “How?” The systems, structures, and practices that implement aid and drive investment need to be cooperative, inclusive, needs based, and people-centered – in one word: effective. If you are looking for a return on investment (ROI) or accolades for your donated or invested dollars, then maybe you should reconsider why you give?

The Week in African Health

Friday, May 22nd, 2009
Nyala, Kalma camp, South Darfur - March 2007 (MSF Photo Blog)

Nyala, Kalma camp, South Darfur - March 2007 (MSF Photo Blog)

The impact of conflict on the environment and then the subsequent, direct effect on human health cannot be overlooked. This internally displaced peoples (IDP) camp in Sudan shows the seriousness of that impact.

Your Old Cell Phone Can Make a Difference in Global Health

Everyone in the global health sector is writing about the incredible reach of SMS technologies working for health in developing countries, and rightly so. Hope Phones has partnered with FrontlineSMS to provide old cell phones to communities in need through SMSmedic partner organizations.
Your Old Phone Can Change the World

A service that I just recently came across is one that is not being as widely talked about. TeleMed is different from FrontlineSMS: Medic because it connects local health care workers directly to patients in need via SMS technology. SMS: Medic is focused on health infrastructure. TeleMed does not have a website up yet, but is definitely one to watch:

Paul Farmer and the US Government?

The other big talk within global health is whether Paul Farmer will take a job within the US government. Some have expressed great hope for potential reform others voice their plea with him to continue his incredible community based work outside the bureaucracies. My opinion is that Partners in Health has developed into a strong organization and does not depend on Paul Farmer to further their work. If he wants to take on the inefficiencies and inadequacies of the US government and global health, then all the more power to him.

Southern Africa: Global Financial Crisis Leads to HIV Budget Cuts

Broken promises abound as the economic crisis deepens and the right to health falters, but activists are coming together to ensure that funding for health and HIV are not cut. International donors are expected to slash budgets for health due to the economic crisis and health experts fear that this will lead to, “less food security and quality of nutrition, which will in turn put more stress on already weak health systems.” Paula Akugizibwe, regional treatment literacy and advocacy coordinator of Windhoek-based AIDS and Rights Alliance for Southern Africa (ARASA) in Namibia demanded, “We need to ensure that African lives do not become a silent casualty of the global financial downturn. Our lives are not cheap or expendable. We expect health to be prioritised over weapons, sports and lavish politics.” Tanzania was the first sub-Saharan country to announce a 25 percent cut of its annual HIV/AIDS budget.
Other budget cut impacts:
Guinea: Medicines Running Out

Zambian High Court to Hear Groundbreaking HIV Case

On Wednesday, the Livingstone High Court was supposed to hear a ground breaking case about whether mandatory testing for HIV and discrimination solely on the basis of HIV status is constitutional in Zambia. Unfortunately two days later news came that the trial was postponed until mid-July. Be sure to keep watching this story.
Trial postponed until 15 July

HIV Prevention and Behavior Change

Mara Gordon writes on’s Global Health Blog about a direct campaign in Tanzania discussing behavior change. “This campaign is partially paid for by the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, U.S. government money to fight HIV that’s notoriously had lots of conservative strings attached. Had I seen this ad a year ago, I probably would have dismissed it as unrealistic abstinence-only propaganda. But behavior change works. Behavior change – in combination with access to condoms, comprehensive sexual education, open discussion about HIV and sexually transmitted infections in general, all that good liberal stuff.”
Changing Human Behaviors: Sexual and Social
During a course on Africa’s environmental history I wrote about the need for changing human behavior in both the sexual and social arena to make a real impact in HIV prevalence. The major social change is the response from Western institutions and organizations in how they talk about HIV/AIDS and Africa while seeking to change sexual behavior.
Lesotho: Cultural Beliefs Threaten Prevention of Mother-Child HIV Transmission
Health workers note an encouraging response to the PMTCT program. The number of facilities providing PMTCT has risen from nine in 2004 to 166 by the end of 2008. The number of women who received PMTCT and subsequent antiretroviral (ARV) treatment increased from 421 in 2004 to about 5,000 by end of last year, according to 2009 National AIDS Council statistics. “The primary health care coordinator at St. James Mantsonyane Mission Hospital, Khanyane Mabitso, says stigma and cultural beliefs make it difficult for medical personnel to follow up on HIV-positive mothers and their babies.”

Progress on health-related MDGs mixed

Many advances have been made in health. Some argue that these advances have been dwarfed by the HIV/AIDS epidemic, the economic crisis, or the failures of African governments. The WHO report shows that the only statistic with concrete results was the number of children dying before the age of five. Is this a solid example of the failure of big plans and blanket goals for development?

Sierra Leone: ACC Recommends Reform At Health Ministry

The Anti-Corruption Committee report provides a number of recommendations for reform all focused on improving the health care delivery services in Sierra Leone and eliminating the risk of corrupt practices in the health services across the country.
More on health service scale-up:
Chad: Paving the Way for Better Obstetric Care
Government meetings with UNICEF to help scale-up of health services for better obstetric care across the country.

Ten Things You Can Do to Fight World Hunger

The Nation provides an interesting set of things you can do in your everyday life to fight world hunger. They properly focus on how food, a basic human need, has been commodified in our global capitalist structure. “Our planet produces enough food to feed its more than 960 million undernourished people. The basic cause of global hunger is not underproduction; it is a production and distribution system that treats food as a commodity rather than a human right.” When in February I wrote that agricultural experts had said the food crisis of the last year was over evidence from this past week point to the contrary.
Tanzania: Food Shortage Unnecessary
“Tanzania has since independence sang the song of ‘Agriculture is the backbone of the economy’, but little has gone into strategizing and implementing viable actions towards surplus food production.”
Kenya: UN Agency Makes First Local Food Purchase from Small Scale Farmers
The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) has for the first time bought food from small-scale farmers in Kenya under a new initiative aimed at boosting agriculture by connecting farmers to markets.
Zimbabwe: Another Year Without Much Food
Rwanda: Nearly Half the Country’s Children Are Malnourished
Kenya: Over Three Million Face Food Shortages

Africa: High Level Engagement with Continent Has Started

Speaking at a gala reception in Washington marking the beginning of “Africa Week,” Carson said: “Most of the Obama administration’s Africa team is in place, and we are gearing up. We will continue to build on and strengthen the strong bipartisan consensus in Congress and among the people of America that has motivated U.S. policy towards Africa. Over the next four years, we will be focusing our efforts on strengthening democracy, promoting sustainable development, resolving or mitigating conflict, and dealing with transnational issues such as climate change and agriculture,” he pledged. While Obama has built a great team, the White House has yet to announce any Africa Policy, greater control and influence for the Bureau of African Affairs, or take any serious (or effective) action for the continent.
Tanzania: Obama, Kikwete Meet in Oval Office on Africa’s Conflicts

World Bank Resumes Zimbabwe Aid

Zimbabwe owes the World Bank and the African Development Bank more than $1bn, how much potential does renewed aid really hold for the country. If the debt is not forgiven there will be no way the country will be able to rebuild necessary infrastructures for health, water, etc. There are countless case studies to show this historical fact. It must also be noted that Western sanctions were a huge detriment to a country in need, maybe this marks a turnaround?

Call for Papers (Fall 2008)

Sunday, November 16th, 2008

SCOUT BANANA, in conjunction with Michigan State University’s African Studies Center and Office of International Development, invites you to submit a manuscript to Articulate: Undergraduate Scholarship Applied to International Development.

Articulate is a new undergraduate scholarly journal that publishes academic papers and writings (research papers, field work, interviews, etc.) on issues in international development, focusing primarily on African studies and health care issues. Articulate seeks to educate, motivate, and activate the public about its mission and vision working towards solutions for Africa’s health care crisis.

Our journal focuses on relationships between development, foreign aid, health care and Africa. Articulate is a forum for students to contribute to, as well as make, the debates in international development. Undergraduate students remain a vital, untapped force that can bring new ideas, perspectives, and concepts into the development dialogue. Our goal is to spark, share, and spread knowledge to create innovative change now.

Articulate is peer-reviewed by an editorial committee consisting of undergraduate students. Editorial decisions are based on relevance, quality, and originality. We ask for submissions that are roughly 10-15 pages long and formatted in the Chicago Manual of Style. In addition, we ask that the author’s name, major, college, and university appear on a separate cover sheet, with no reference to the author within the manuscript.

Potential topics, include, but are not limited to:
The effectiveness of foreign aid
Intersections of gender, ethnicity, and sexuality in African development
Comparative studies of health care systems
Ethics and development in African countries
Land rights reform/redistribution as a development policy
Historical analysis of development programs in Africa
Politics of water in Africa
The role of African youth in development programs and projects
Effects of conflict and forced migration on health care and development

Papers will be accepted on a rolling deadline until September 15th with an intended publication date of November 23rd 2008. For submissions or more information, please contact the Editor-in-Chief at Click for more information on SCOUT BANANA.

Not an undergraduate student? Paper too long? Still want to get your ideas published as a volunteer or researcher in the field? Inquire about the Banana Tree Papers at:

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