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Friday, May 30, 2008

Aid to Poor Countries: "Cruel Joke" Week

Is the opening paragraph serious?:

Bread and Bush-bashing, by Chris Patten, Project Syndicate: I feel a little sorry for President Bush. Whatever his other many failings, he has a pretty good record on aid to poor countries, particularly in healthcare. True to form, he recently announced a big increase in US food aid -- good for the hungry poor and good for American farmers. ...

What made me feel a little sorry for Bush was the reaction to his announcement. Bush referred to the reasons for shortages and price hikes. He did not dwell on the diversion of American corn from food to heavily subsidized bio-fuels. Nor did climate change feature prominently in his argument, although many experts suggest that this may be the cause of the droughts and floods that have ruined wheat harvests in Australia and vegetable oil production in Indonesia and Malaysia.

Bush pointed his finger primarily elsewhere. Food prices had responded to growing demand. In Asia, economic growth had stimulated food consumption. The Chinese and Indians were eating more and eating better. ...

What Bush said is of course true. ...

But many Indians are still wretchedly poor. Too many. They have a miserable diet -- not least when compared with Bush’s Texan neighbors. Grain consumption per head in India has remained static, and is less than one-fifth the figure for the US, where it has been rising. I do not imagine you will find too many vegetarians in Crawford, Texas, and the meat consumed by the average American is way ahead of the figure for any other country. Think of all those T-bone steaks.

Bush’s partial explanation of the world food crisis, accurate as far as it went, brought the anger of India’s media and of many politicians... According to India’s Defense Minister, A.K. Anthony, presumably an expert on butter as well as guns, Bush’s statement was “a cruel joke.”...

Later in the “cruel joke” week, Bush’s White House compounded the sin. According to Bush’s press spokesman, the growth in world demand for oil -- in Asia, for example -- was one of the causes of the high price of filling the tanks of gas-guzzling sports utility vehicles ... at America’s pumps.

Meanwhile, the US government papered over the fact that Americans, who make up less than 4 percent of the world’s population, own and drive 250 million of the world’s 520 million cars. More outrage around the world at American double standards.

Now, all this is more than the knock-about of international politics. One day soon, Bush and Cheney will be out of office. But we will still be left with the most difficult global issue we have ever faced: as more of us prosper, how do we deal fairly with some of the economic and environmental consequences?

What do we do about the bottom billion in the world who remain in grinding poverty while the rest of us live better and longer lives? How do we deal with equity on a global scale when we cannot even deal with it country by country?

This conundrum will lie at the heart of the diplomacy next year to find a successor to the Kyoto agreement. Can we prevent a calamitous increase in global warming in a way that is fair,... and that does not thwart legitimate hopes for a better life everywhere? We have never faced a more difficult political task.

Meanwhile, there is a food crisis to solve. We have already seen many examples of how not to deal with it. Stopping food exports is stupid. If we restrict market forces, there will be less food and higher prices. We should also avoid the cheap political trick of holding down what we pay to poor farmers in order to benefit poor city dwellers.

Why do governments do this? The answer is obvious: city dwellers riot; in the countryside, people just starve. The best way to deal with the problem is to subsidize food for the poor; we should not cut the price we pay farmers for growing it. ...

Here's the reason I asked. This is Africa, not India, but I don't suppose the story is any different:

Food Relief For Africa 'Insufficient,' GAO Says, by Anthony Faiola, Washington Post: Efforts by the United States and multilateral agencies including the World Bank to reduce hunger in sub-Saharan Africa have been "insufficient," with foreign aid to the region failing to flow into agricultural development projects vital to the ability of poor countries to feed themselves, according to a report to be released this morning by the U.S. Government Accountability Office. ...

The report, a draft copy of which was obtained by The Washington Post, additionally describes U.S. aid efforts in sub-Saharan Africa as fragmented and misdirected. It says, for instance, that a Bush administration initiative to "end hunger in Africa" launched in 2002 effectively amounted to a repackaging of existing programs and came with no new funding. ...

The report comes on the heels of another released by the GAO last year sharply criticizing U.S. food aid programs. That report called them "inherently inefficient" because they rely on the sale of American-grown food that is costly to transport overseas, as opposed to food purchased closer to the troubled regions themselves. ...

    Posted by on Friday, May 30, 2008 at 02:43 AM in China, Development, Economics, India | Permalink  TrackBack (0)  Comments (47)

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