What’s the best way to help poor countries?
Many poor countries receive financial help from richer nations, but poverty is still a problem. Should we give other kinds of help to developing countries in order to eliminate poverty? What other kinds of help can we give, or is money sufficient?
There is a saying that the poor will always be with us, and it sometimes seems that despite years of poor countries being helped financially, the need is just as great as ever. Where has all our foreign aid gone? Why has it not helped? In this essay I will discuss whether we need to reconsider the types of aid we give to poorer countries.
There are many different forms of development aid. When we hear about earthquakes or floods, it’s natural that we rush to our cupboards to look for blankets, clothes, and tins of food. These pile up outside collection depots in our country and cost a fortune to ship to the suffering country, where they clog up warehouses for months and often end up on the black market or make local food or clothing businesses unprofitable. Another form of aid is military aid. We generously sell our planes or tanks to our friends in developing countries, or even give them loans to buy our stuff. Since these countries have frequent wars or need to keep down their own population, it’s a good business, for us. A third type of aid is human expertise. We send consultants and economists, engineers and academics, trainers and managers. They drive around in imported four-wheel drives and live in expensive, secure villas, eating imported food.
Of course, financial aid is not perfect either. Too often, our money disappears into the pockets of ministers and generals and their friends, never reaching the needy. However, the right amount of money, given to the right people in the right way, can do more than our jet fighters, expensive generators, and bags of expired pasta can. Money moves quickly: it does not need trucks or petrol or airlifts. It stimulates local business and allows the people to make their own choices about what to buy and what the most urgent needs are, short and long term. If correctly distributed, money gives people independence. Yes, teach people to fish and you teach them for a lifetime, but give them some money, and they can set up a fish canning factory or a shrimp farm, employing and feeding hundreds.
In summary then, money is still a good way to help other people. Of course, it cannot be thrown at the problem, but without cash, every other form of aid is useless. In our blessed, comfortable lives, we cannot function without money – why should we expect the less fortunate to do so?