Much Foreign Aid Is Useless, the Rest Is a Scam

Lorne Gunter, National Post, October 25, 2011

What is the goal of foreign aid? Oh sure, we say it is about emergency relief from natural disasters, such as tsunamis and droughts. Or we claim it’s about helping the world’s poor lift themselves out of poverty and despair. But as often as not, I think it is about assuaging our Western guilt. We give money to rotting, fetid hellholes because doing so cleanses our consciences. It makes it possible for us to turn on the TV, see reports from disaster areas or squalid shantytowns and give ourselves permission not to mourn because we’ve done our bit.

But more often than not, we are merely tossing hard-earned tax dollars into a swirling, downward drain. Our aid does little good because it goes to the wrong people or the wrong solutions.

According to a new book by international development expert Samantha Nutt, the old adage that foreign aid amounts to transferring money from poor people in rich countries to rich people in poor countries is truer than most aid advocates care to admit. Dr. Nutt, who is a physician at Toronto’s Women’s College Hospital, as well as being co-founder and executive director or War Child Canada, and an assistant professor at the University of Toronto med school, released Damned Nations–Greed, Guns, Armies & Aid on Tuesday.

In it, she explains that aid goes mostly to two kinds of organizations. There are large aid providers that are top-heavy with bureaucracy and often run by expatriate experts whose image of their former country and its needs is out-of-date (or who have political agendas and use Western aid to buy favour rather than solve problems). Then there are well-meaning, but naive smaller organizations run by celebrities, students or church groups. These latter organizations often has lots of energy and plenty of good intentions, but are kept from being truly effective by their inexperience.

The key, according to Dr. Nutt, who has worked on aid projects in Iraq, Afghanistan, the Congo, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Somalia and Ethiopia, among other places, is a middle ground between large and small aid groups. Emergency relief must evolve into long-term projects that address broad social problems, but always with respect for local needs and customs.

The ultimate goal of aid should be to make itself redundant. We need to make an investment in development programming that gives local communities the tools and resources they need to be their own architects of change.

That’s remarkably like another old adage: Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach him how to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.

But that’s a lot easier said than down.

Naivety or political correctness, or both, permeate most Western nation’s aid efforts. Corrupt governors in receiving nations siphon off billions in aid dollars and redirect it to their personal banks account. Often very little aid ever makes it down as far as those who truly need it.

In other cases, aid workers’ reluctance to admit that receiving communities lack the basics required for sustaining self-government means that what money does make it to local programs, is often ultimately wasted. Local officials–to the extent there are any–lack even the most basic governance skills, so after a project is complete there is little understanding that it must be maintained, so it is quickly broken or abandoned.

Dr. Nutt argues that Western nations have to become more serious about aid. They must spend more money and they must do so more consistently. Rather than only showing up after an earthquake or typhoon, Western governments and private donors must commit to being there for the long haul and live up to that promise. Then they must direct their funds and hands-on help through smaller, low-profile organizations with strong links to the communities they serve.

The prevailing view on this side of the world is that the suffering of those living beyond our borders is the domain of charity; an optional concern. We respond only when the raw images of those who are starving, dying or being otherwise brutalized are so persistent and extreme that they can no longer be ignored.

But the problems in places such as Somalia and Darfur go far beyond starvation or sectarian warfare. The problems arise because basic societal infrastructure has broken down. Unless Western organizations and governments are in for years–even decades–they may alleviate the odd symptom, but they will cure few diseases–literally and figuratively.

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  • Blaak Obongo

    “But the problems in places such as Somalia and Darfur go far beyond starvation or sectarian warfare. The problems arise because basic societal infrastructure has broken down. Unless Western organizations and governments are in for years—even decades—they may alleviate the odd symptom, but they will cure few diseases—literally and figuratively.”

    Wrong. We have been in Africa for decades, and generations of do-gooders have nothing lasting to show for their labors. Africans are Africans, and nothing can change that.

  • Question Diversity

    This article is half right and half wrong. It starts out by telling us what a folly foreign aid is, or has become, then ends by saying the problem is that we only engage in the folly on an intermittent basis, that we should really be doing it permanently. As for this business about “We need to make an investment in development programming that gives local communities the tools and resources they need to be their own architects of change,” all I can say is that that was the motivation behind the Great Society, and it had the opposite result.

  • devilpup

    If anyone can name one country that has accepted U.S. Foreign Aide and has STOPPED takeing it, I will kiss your A–, and give you an hour to draw a crowd.

    Foreign Aide must be stopped for all countries. It is a worthless endevore, wastes countless Billions, and does no good.

  • Old Soldier

    Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach him how to fish and he will ask what you are going to do for him tomorrow.

  • Anonymous

    I read recently Ron Paul is for stopping all foreign aid. Hear, hear!

    Giving money and aid to people in Africa has done one thing–perpetuated the problem to the next generation, and the next, and the next, ad finitum!

  • patthemick

    One of the saddest things about foreign aid is that it barely feeds the people but because they get enough food to stay alive they can then dedicate themselves to civil war to take over the country so their side will control the foreign aid until the other side regains population for the next war.

    If we stopped foreign aid we would depopulate the private warlords army since farming would have to happen.

  • OnGuard

    Ron Paul, bless him, calls for ending all foreign aid! My husband’s Peace Corps experience in Liberia is probably too common. He worked with a USAID(U S Aid for International Development) officer, who was sent to look at the “bush”(country) schools we paid for in Africa (based on the theory of “teach a man to fish, he’ll feed himself”). Each year Africa claimed there were more students, so they asked for more money. The officer found that many of those schools were nonexistent! Turns out the local powers that be took the money (meant to educate Africa out of their poverty)bought luxury cars and weapons, thus becoming the local warlords! The locals hated the US for funding warlords that raped and pillaged them!!!!

  • John Bell in England

    “Western governments and private donors must commit to being there for the long haul…”

    “Unless western organisations and governments are in for years – even decades….”

    Well, we were there for decades, doing good things, but they called it “colonialism”, and the United Nations and the US government and all the world’s lefties harried us until we shrugged our shoulders and walked away. Now we are just to hand over our cash without any power over those countries or over how the money is used – and we will.

  • Anonymous

    Does foreign aid also mean that we constantly fight wars and then go back in and REBUILD everything the war destroyed, only build it better and more of it? What a gullible people we are.

    Foreign aid is a scam and we hand it over to our known enemies like it is candy. Even our so-called “friends” are no better. They then turn around and buy (with our own foreign aid money) or steal our weapons/technology to kill us with. But then, all these idiots, such as the church going sheeple think it is good to “forgive” and to be “nice” to everyone. Right?

    Until we rise up and speak out about this and the Fed Reserve and the U.N. then we will continue to be fleeced and pounded into the ground.

  • Lauren

    So Samantha Nutt is saying we should put the whole ‘Developing World’ on Welfare?

    I’m sorry, but this article is nothing more than ‘Bait & Switch’. She gets our attention by denouncing Foreign Aid, then uses that attention to call for MORE Foreign Aid.

    I’m sure she’s part of the movement for the UN to directly tax citizens of First World countries, to create a nice, direct, dedicated money flow, from working people to Third World Dictators.

    Personally, I feel no moral obligation to help the African Elite fund their shopping excursions to Hermes and Chanel.

    Glad I finished reading the article, and so didn’t rush out to Lemuria to buy this aptly-named woman’s book.

  • SciFi

    Sometimes, it works. The USAID was the God Bless to S.Korea in 50′. We were able to develop our nation partly due to the USAID. Since then, we have been and will be a royal ally of the USA. We also share the burden in these days as S.Korea is the 11th contributor to UN. Thank you USA.

  • Rhialto

    Read the first paragraph. Note the repeated use of we. Who beside himself is this Lorne Guter referring to? It certainly does not include me. I feel no guilt toward teeming masses whose problems are self induced. My conscience does not need cleansing because Africans have failed.

    Also note that in the U.S. (Guter is a Canadian), much of this aid money is borrowed from China. If Americans were taxed to provide this uplift money, there would be much less uplifting.

    The group that I feel sorry for, is young white non-wealthy males here in the U.S.

  • Jeddermann.

    Much of that foreign aid as given out by the U.S. gov to various nations around the world was done in the form of military hardware and credits to buy military hardware. NOT stuff that benefited the poor or the downtrodden. Has been that way since 1945.

  • Hunter Morrow

    In books such as White Man’s Burden and other research organization the cost of international aid to Africa alone in the proceeding 50 years is north of 2 trillion American dollars.

    Good thing it worked, or else it might have been kind of a rip off, huh?

  • Turtle

    As my old high school English use to intone. “Read your Kipling”.

    Read “The White Man’s Burden”. It was written in 1899. How little things change. How little learn of of lifes hard lessons.

  • elitist

    As for bad governance, most African countries have never had good governance and never will.

    The choice is between bad self-government and good government by outsiders, whites if they are lucky, the Chinese if they’re unlucky.

    Also, one of the biggest problems with foreign aid is not mentioned:

    It is now taboo to talk about overpopulation and to provide appropriate family-planning.

    There is plenty of blame to go around here: the right and the left have collaborated in bringing about this staggering catastrophe.

    For obvious reasons, a Haiti with 2 million people instead of 9 million would still be a Third World country, would never become competitive with developed nations.

    But it would be heaven on earth compared to the open sewer it is today.

    Exploding populations across Africa and the rest of the Third World have made paths to development impossible.

    Despite all of the breathless propaganda about the Arab spring, Egypt remains a country of 100 million sitting on the sandpit.

    Of course, family-planning means giving women fundamental rights in cultures where women are treated as subhuman chattel – everywhere in the Muslim world, for example, including Muslim communities in the United States and Western Europe.

  • Bon, From the Land of Babble

    All Foreign Aid should be stopped immediately and in perpetuity. It is not the job of productive American taxpayers to provide aid to other countries. Let them help themselves or let Mother Nature take care of them. Foreign aid and food programs allow Africans to reproduce beyond their countries’ resources without having to face the consequences — then demand entry to First World countries.

    We can’t pay our own bills yet borrow money from China to give to foreign countries?

    Fox news reports: China is one of the biggest economies in the world and grew at more than 9 percent over the last year. It also has loaned more than $1 trillion to the U.S. to fund its deficit-spending.

    AND, as a sign of true insanity, CHINA receives American foreign aid!! — the country that is loaning us our extra money, China, received a “mere” $65 million in 2008 in from United States taxpayers.

    Republican Sen. Tom Coburn or Oklahoma says:

    Why in the world would we be borrowing money and then turn around and giving it back to the countries that we’re borrowing it from? If they have enough of a surplus to loan us money, they have enough of a surplus to take care of their own needs.

    Yes. Why.

    Here is Ron Paul on Foreign Aid:

    American citizens are taxed to fund these foreign giveaway programs… In poor countries food aid becomes a tool for maintaining political power. Our foreign aid goes either to fascist or socialist nations, benefiting the rulers by solidifying their power and impeding the development of a free society and a free-market economy.

    When economic assistance is sent to other nations with the intention of helping the poor, the poor receive a small fraction of what is sent. But the worst part of all this is that the assistance perpetuates the entire system that causes the impoverishment in the first place and makes it more difficult than ever for the people of that country to achieve more liberty.

    Hear Hear, Mr. Paul. This message needs to repeated, continually and constantly, to the American people who work to fund these specious foreign aid programs!!

    Bon

  • highduke

    It’s more about Western govts playing on the baseless guilt they themselves created in order to pay off foreign govts in exchange for preferential business status, meanwhile these states use the money to strengthen their military & police and the real aid comes from World Vision, Feed the Children, the Red Cross and similar charities that just perpetuate the problem.

  • Anonymous

    11 — SciFi wrote at 8:59 PM on October 25:

    “Sometimes, it works. The USAID was the God Bless to S.Korea in 50’. We were able to develop our nation partly due to the USAID. Since then, we have been and will be a royal ally of the USA. We also share the burden in these days as S.Korea is the 11th contributor to UN. Thank you USA.”

    Well, it worked way back before the trend of corruption took over, and it worked for Korea because Koreans are basically a monocultural society of honorable and righteous people. Thank you for your comment.

  • Anonymous

    Imagine the deficit reduction IF we ended our endless wars and ended Foreign Aid. Not only would we find our way out of debt, but we’d be able to take care of our own, with no need to fear social programs that we could afford. (Would only work if we severely limited immigration).

  • Frank

    Give more money so corrupt officials can steal more! There has to be a better way.What is wrong with non-western countries giving more? Why do we give money to China, Russia and Cuba?

  • Deirdre

    “I think it’s about assuaging our Western guilt”? Is it now taken for granted that we collectively bear responsibility for these people to care for themselves? How ever did they manage to reach this day and age without us. It’s a pity anyway.

  • Anonymous

    Lest we forget, most of the American Founding fathers,George Washington,Jefferson et al said NO foreign aid/entanglements,period.As we pack the USA with millions of illegals and people that could care less about white founders,civilzation etc, what do they care?? Billions of dollars have been squandered in aid to Africa,and blacks everywhere, and what is to show of it? ZERO. Someday Socialists like Bill Gates will finally realze it was all smoke and mirrors w/their millions of dollars to Africa, enriching numerous dictator/tyrant/murderers.

  • Anonymous

    George Washington warned of “Foreign entanglemets” in his Farewell Address.

    Too bad this country couldn’t stick to its roots and abide by what our First President had stated.

    Instead, we are invloved in the UN, and their foreign wars, all for the profits of the Global Corporate-Socialists, while at home we are flooded with every type of lower Humanoid from around the world, which is shredding the very fabric of this once proud and vital Nation.

    Ron Paul is the ONLY Candidate that is saying what George Washington had said.

    How about some support for Ron Paul’s Campaign from the AmRen Readers?