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East Africa Famine Appeal

November 8th, 2011

I’m in the US at present, visiting Johns Hopkins University. This kind of visit usually involves plenty of opportunities for eating and drinking, not so many for exercise. To push myself into activity, I’ve signed up for a half-marathon to be run in Philadelphia on 19 November.

That seems like a good occasion for a fundraiser. I know it’s not long since the last one, but I’ve picked a really good cause, namely relief efforts for the East Africa Famine. I’ve set up a fundraising page on Everyday Hero, with a convenient link to the left. The money goes to CARE, and I’ll write to them to ask them to put it towards their East Africa Appeal. But if you prefer to give to another charity engaged in the same effort, or even some other cause altogether.

I’ve put some thoughts about the famine over the fold. However, I’d prefer to keep the comments thread for posts regarding contributions to the appeal, other ways to help and so on. Negative comments will be deleted with prejudice. I’ll open a sandpit soon for people who want to argue about the issues hopefully as well as, and not instead of, contributing to the appeal.

Update As pointed out by commenter Peter Rickwood, the Australian government will match our contributions dollar for dollar. And all Australian donations are tax deductible. So, for someone lucky enough to be in the top tax bracket, you can give $4 worth of help for every $1 of post-tax income you forgo. A dollar a day is all it takes to feed a hungry child, so $100 of consumption forgone is enough to feed a child for a year. You don’t get an offer like that every day! It’s such a good deal, I’ve put some money in to start the ball rolling. End update


The famine has been triggered by a terrible drought. The drought may or may not have been exacerbated by human-caused climate change, but nearly all famines are caused as much by war and oppression as by crop failure, and this is certainly the case here. The multiple wars going on in this part of the world mean that those engaged in relief efforts are taking big risks, as are people trying to make it to places where they can get help. These wars (like nearly all wars) are pointless squabbles over nearly worthless pieces of land, or totally worthless religions and ideologies, but the very desperation of the situation makes the resort to war seem worthwhile.

PS I hope you like the inspirational image on the right, which is the Everyday Hero default. They suggest adding a personalised image, and closer to the day I will probably post a picture of myself, stumbling across the finish line in some previous event. But for the moment, I think the default looks better.

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  1. Peter Rickwood
    November 8th, 2011 at 08:24 | #1

    I believe CARE donations for east africa are matched dollar for dollar by the govt – can you confirm this john?

  2. Tim Dymond
    November 8th, 2011 at 09:52 | #2

    CARE Australia has the dollar matching arrangement with the Australian government – so if it goes to the Australian body it should count:
    http://www.care.org.au/Page.aspx?pid=1001

  3. Robert
    November 8th, 2011 at 10:30 | #3

    I’m not sure if this counts as negative, but have you considered pushing regular kinds of charities recommended by groups like GiveWell, or Giving What We Can? From what I’ve read the return to marginal spending in disaster areas is rather because there’s only so much charity that the infrastructure can deliver in a short time. Though I’m thinking natural disasters more than famine. Either way this is sure to be a better way to spend money than what anyone capable of reading this blog spends their money on usually.

  4. John Quiggin
    November 8th, 2011 at 13:02 | #4

    @Robert

    Thanks for that comment, which was thoughtful and helpful. I think the best solution is to give both for emergencies and for continuing aid. For a blog appeal like this, I’ve generally found that an emergency tends to open hearts and wallets a bit more easily.

  5. Robert
    November 8th, 2011 at 15:19 | #5

    Makes sense. The price matching and tax deductiblity are also good. In the past I’ve gone with the GiveWell recommendations despite them being non tax-deductible because I doubted Australian charities were no more than 30% less efficient than VillageReach, but at 3:1 it’s much more likely to be the better option.

    Comment should obviously read “marginal spending in disaster areas is rather *low*”

  6. November 8th, 2011 at 17:39 | #6

    Africa; the cradle of civilisation
    The birth place of humanity

    What a calamity
    Cry for me,
    Weep and wail

    Oh Africa
    iamtheeagle.blogspot.com

  7. Robert
    November 8th, 2011 at 18:01 | #7

    This paints a somewhat pessimistic picture about the ability to deliver anything effectively given violent groups operating in the area, though they don’t look at CARE specifically as far as I can see: http://blog.givewell.org/2011/08/30/somalia-famine-update/

    What a horrendous situation.

  8. David Barry
    November 8th, 2011 at 19:07 | #8

    @Robert

    The cost-effectiveness of a particular charitable programme can vary by orders of magnitude, even when implemented well, so it’s not clear that 3:1 is enough to donate to an Australian charity over VillageReach. See, for example, the graph on page 41 here: http://files.dcp2.org/pdf/DCP/DCP02.pdf (That’s from the Disease Control Priorities report; in addition, GiveWell recently found that the calculation leading to the generally accepted cost per DALY averted from helminth infections was wrong by two orders of magnitude.) Until a year or two ago, one of GiveWell’s recommended charities was Partners in Health, who they estimated (very roughly) were saving lives at around $4000 each. The implication is that a charity that’s 5 times less efficient than VillageReach is still better than almost all others.

    Having said that, famine relief would appear to be a place where the marginal dollar will do a lot of good, if it can get to the people in need. I’m certainly not criticising the blog appeal, especially given the extra money it is likely to raise compared to an ‘everyday’ aid appeal.

  9. John Quiggin
    November 9th, 2011 at 03:55 | #9

    I’ve opened the sandpit now. Further discussion on aid effectiveness and so on should go there. On this thread, just comments on the appeal, ideas to promote it better and so on.

  10. nkg
    November 9th, 2011 at 12:49 | #10

    Some Employers (e.g. Westpac) also have a Dollar for Dollar match for this issue, therefore $1 donation should become $3.

  11. paul walter
    November 10th, 2011 at 22:19 | #11

    As someone of John Quiggin’s generation, I think back over nearly fifty years to all the famines and atrocities that have blighted Africa and Africans and wonder at how history this vile keeps repeating itself- but for the constant repetition of voodoo economics offered as alibi from the so-called civilised western centres like Wall st and the City, to the exploitedHeart of Darkness. The real
    Whited Sepulchres are actually filthy rich and live in the West.

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