Relief or aid, an ever returning item in the west. Having travelled for so long, I have seen the effects with my own eyes and have developed my own opinion on this.
Western governments and many many relief organizations spend billions of (!) Euros annually in aid for development. Note, billions!!. Per year!!.
If you study, especially around Africa, the impact of this massive influx of money, it will bring tears in your eyes. I write specifically about Africa, but the same goes for Asia.
A lot of the development that has taken place in recent decades has had little effect and 90% off the money spend is badly spend and useless. Why then, do the aid agency continue to collect and spend money? Your money.? This has a number of reasons.
–In the first place, development and aid has become a business. Big business. A business where a lot of money can be earned. Most organizations (Red Cross, Oxfam, etc) are big cumbersome organizations which incur huge costs to maintain themselves. Fat salaries, large offices and cars, lots of ads on radio and TV, lobby groups, administrations, etc. These costs will be paid by the money that is given by you, direct or indirect. I think not even a third of the money collected (your money) goes to actual development/aid
The next famine is actually a God’s gift to these organizations. If help was not needed, they can close up their business. So these organisations have to ‘sell’ the suffering of others and they actually do so. Just watch their TV spots. The misery of others create their income.
Do not think that the managing director has a tiny salary or drives a small car. Do not think they have tiny offices in cheap areas. They live the life, all the time preaching they do it for the poor. Yeahh right.
Money from the government is very often given to so called NGO’s.(non Governmental Organisation). The governments distribute their yearly aid budget over the many embassies, who in turn do some elaborate studies (costing lots of money) on where aid is needed. They write lengthy reports that nobody reads and the money is then distributed to these NGO’s. Well, most NGO’s are just like the big aid companies, they live from this kind of business. They to have big salaries and big houses, they have to pay their expensive cars. Ever see a NGO person in a dented car? No sir. They buy the biggest 4 wheel drive SUV. Not that they ever get of the tarmac, but hey, it looks so good. And after two years the car has to be traded in for a new one. The people in the NGO who have actually ever visited a country abroad, life in a big house, usually in a compound, have cleaners and cooks, not to forget a driver. Who is paying fort his?…. right…you
–In the second place aid does not work because they provide aid wrongly. They provide aid with a western mind and background, a western thought, with western plans and western guilt. Oh…. These poor people are so pathetic and they are so poor. We have it so good, let’s help these people achieve something with our thinking and our resources. On our level
This is a noble, but unfortunately also a bad thought.
Most parts of Africa are 100 years behind the West. The ideas of an average African is so different from that of an aid worker or a general westerner that the desire of the one (the poor African), is absolutely not in line with the thinking of the other. The Western development is based on our (highly advanced?) mentality. Help people in the western way (with technological developments) usually has no effect. The recipient of aid usually does not understand the mind-set of the aid-giver but he will say yes and thank you, because he assumes that he’s gone gets some. So the latrines the very enthusiastic aid worker has built just outside the village are taken with thanks, but the second the NGO’er has left, nobody will use these latrines because they are too far to walk when you feel the sudden urge. And hey, they now have some nice new storage huts.
–Thirdly, most aid is short term. The building of the latrines, the placing of the water pump. All well, but when finished, the aid worker leaves and when the pump breaks, there is no–one to repair it. And believe me, the pump will break, perhaps even days after the aid worker has left. And why does the pump break? Because the locals who have built the pump have done so badly with inferior products in order to cut costs and put the difference in their pockets. Or the pump breaks because it is not build to take the abuse of a whole village. Or the pump breaks because nobody will grease the chain and tighten the nuts once in a while. Maintenance is not an African concept. The African concept is, repair it when its broken, if you have the money and/or the spare parts.
Due to lack of maintenance more then half of the aid projects are doomed to fail after one year.
–Fourthly, a lot of money gets lost through corruption. African governments like to see aid workers come, he, they bring money. A portion of that money disappears into the pockets of those for whom the aid is not intended. The higher the level of corruption, the less ends up at the intended target. Despite a ban on corruption in many Western countries, the African is very clever in taking part of this money. One has, after all, many years of experience. Almost all in government and semi government benefit, the average African gets obviously nothing.
-Furthermore, the average worker has never been to Africa. And if they have been there, they have had no contact with the average African , the one who can use their aid(save from the corrupt official of course). They drive around from meeting to meeting in a big SUV with the windows closed and the air conditioning full. One lives in a protected environment and maybe even make a trip to another part of the country, mostly in convoy, talking to their drivers only.
After donating for example water pumps, construction of roads, donating materials for workers etc, one gives no follow up. The roads wears quickly due to heavy vehicles (who are heavily overloaded, nobody checks. And if they check, the vehicle can continue after paying off the policeman), creating deep holes, and after a few years (at the most), the road is much worse than when it was a gravel track.
The water pump breaks down and money for maintenance is not there, or there are no parts or skilled people to repair them. If it is a water pump with solar panels, the panels are stolen and the rest is left rusting away.
The mentality of the average African is very different from that of a Westerner. Have we the urge to make our life better, to make things more efficient, to make it better, cheaper, faster and nicer, in the process to make lots of money. We aim for these goals all day.
The African has a different attitude. If I have food for me and my family today, my world just fine. Tomorrow…? Ahh, that’s far away. They have lived like this for centuries and this mentality is difficult to break.. Planning for the future is not done. So if an average African would look for aid, he looks for a plate of rice. Of course that is not aid, but if we could help him to produce his own rice….
Lastly, but definitely not least is religion. It is know that the poorer you are, the stronger your faith. And people with strong faith tend to remain poor. Why, because religion is holding them back. I am not saying religion is a bad thing, but believing in God so fanatically, will result in a lack of progress. If things go wrong, its Gods wish, and nothing can be done. So there is no drive to search for a solution. If there is a solution, God wil provide.
So now that I have explained why current aid concepts do not work, I do not say all aid is useless. But it must be done with an African (local) mentality. Little by little. No big steps. And not at all complicated. Assistance at the African level, there is what one needs
Some examples of western aid projects that I have seen with my own eyes?
The well-intentioned restrooms (mentioned before), built just outside the village in Zambia. There is no one who walks the 100 meter to use the toilet. These toilet facilities where being used as a rice storage place.
The mosquito nets distributed to the local population in Congo. These act as fishing nets in the river Congo. Because the nets are impregnated, they poison in the water. That water is being drunk by the local population.
The water pumps in India. Due to lack of money they are not maintained and a lot of them are defective. People drink simply the contaminated water from the river again.
The beautiful water pump on solar panels in a village in The Gambia has worked exactly one month. When the solar panels were stolen , the pump rusted away. The builder was already gone, so things are probably still as such.
Mind you, I can go on for some time. And I saw everything with my own eyes.
In my next article I shall describe how I think aid projects should be done.
Thank you for reading, all and any (respectful) comments welcome of course
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