‘Aid has become a cultural commodity’ (Moyo, 2009 p.xix)
Whether aid is working is a strongly contested topic. Since the 1940s, approximately one trillion US dollars have been transferred as aid from developed countries to Africa (Moyo, 2009). Yet there are still 840 million people in the world who don’t have enough to eat (Easterly, 2006). So is aid really beneficial?
I found Moyo’s (2009) example of the damage aid can do particularly thought-provoking. She explains that if there were an African mosquito net maker who employed 10 workers each supporting 15 family members, one business affects the lives of at least 150 people. If a Western donor donated 100,000 mosquito nets to the region, the African net maker would be out of business and 150 people would be affected. Short term interventions may have little long term effect, or may even be detrimental.
Cassen (1994) has a more positive view on the effects of aid, stating that ‘the majority of aid is successful in terms of its own objectives’ (Cassen, 1994 p.225). While this may be true, it is fairly short-sighted to look only at objectives and not, as in Moyo’s example, look at the whole picture. Robert Picciotto (2009) believes that aid can be a way to solve problems in developing countries as long as aid allocations are reformed to emphasise the poorest and most vulnerable people, and there is greater coherence between official aid, non-official aid and private philanthropy. I found this view particularly interesting as it accepts that there are problems with the way aid is currently given but is also positive about there being a future for aid.
It seems that aid is often only seen in terms of numbers; for example fifteen years ago 71% of the population of Ethiopia was suffering from malnourishment but now it is only 44% (Barder, 2009). While this is seen as a success, almost half of the population of Ethiopia is still malnourished. The idea of only seeing aid in terms of numbers distracts from the human aspect of development.
The effectiveness of aid given in the aftermath of natural disasters is also questionable. After the earthquake in Haiti in 2010, 4 million people received food aid and 1.7 million people were provided with equipment for basic shelter (OECD Insights, 2011). However, a year after the earthquake, over 800,000 people were still living in camps (OECD Insights, 2011). While initially aid had a positive effect, in the long term conditions have not been improved. After a natural disaster many people will be inspired to donate money for immediate help, but these events are quickly forgotten so long term help cannot be provided.
Charles Lwanga-Ntale from Development Research and Training, a Ugandan NGO said ‘there is an almost unanimous pessimism among African civil society and academia about the unworkable nature of aid’ (Glennie, 2008 p.4). Although donors in the West may see aid as the best solution to problems in developing countries, those who are receiving aid are not as positive about its benefits. Moyo (2009) says that foreign aid increases unproductive public consumption and brings about a culture of dependency on donors. Dependency on aid may mean that any natural sustainable development happening is stopped, or even that no opportunities for development without aid arise.
In my opinion, aid can be beneficial in the short term in cases of extreme disasters, but I think the long term effects of aid need to be carefully considered. Looking at the long history of aid and the relatively few results it has yielded, it seems like potential alternatives to aid are the way forward.
Barder, O. (2009) Beneath the appeal: modestly saving lives. Available from: http://www.opendemocracy.net/owen-barder/beneath-appeal-modestly-saving-lives (accessed 04/11/2012)
Cassen, R. (1994) Does Aid Work? New York: Oxford University Press
Easterly, W. (2006) The White Man’s Burden: Why the West’s Efforts to Aid the Rest Have Done So Much Ill and So Little Good. Oxford: Oxford University Press
Glennie, J. (2008) The Trouble with Aid: Why Less Could Mean More for Africa. New York: Zed Books
Moyo, D. (2009) Dead Aid: Why Aid is Not Working and How There is Another Way for Africa. London: Penguin Books
OECD Insights (2011) Haiti earthquake: Independent evaluations needed. Available from: http://oecdinsights.org/2011/01/17/haiti-earthquake-independent-evaluations-needed/ (accessed 02/12/2012)
Picciotto, R. (2009) Aid pessimism: myth and reality. Available from: http://www.opendemocracy.net/robert-picciotto/aid-pessimism-myth-and-reality (accessed 04/11/2012)