Is aid worthwhile ?


When we were discussing, not long ago, whether foreign aid could be useful in countries with corrupt and incompetent governments, I wasn’t imagining stories like this (see also this).

As a comparison, here’s a report from December 31, 2004 of aid finally reaching a city in Aceh, close to the epicentre of the earthquake/tsunami that struck on Boxing Day, 5 days previously. That’s in the middle of a war zone in a Third World country, with few roads, and thousands of kilometres from the countries giving most of the aid.

One further comparison. Ten days after the New Orleans disaster, the US has received offers of aid totalling $US1 billion. The total amount given by the US government in response to the tsunami was $950 million.

20 thoughts on “Is aid worthwhile ?

  1. Does all seem odd. But I suspect that the problems are simply a result o bureaucratic red tape and difficulty in thinking around the issue.

    Bureaucrats, regardless whatever country, rate somewhere between useless to deliberately incompetent. (Don’t ask an architect about planning bureaucrats and expect a civil reply)

    I think in the US case, a mitigating reason may well be that the US traditionally has been an exporter of foreign aid that it does not have the administrative systems in place to quickly and effectively deal with all the goodwill offered to it!

  2. Before accepting the aid, Karl Rove has to run a poll to find out if this is going to be popular with ‘the base’. It takes time. I understand they already rejected aid from Iran and Cuba, correct?

  3. Prof JQ wrote: “One further comparison. Ten days after the New Orleans disaster, the US has received offers of aid totalling $US1 billion. The total amount given by the US government in response to the tsunami was $950 million.”

    Couldn’t this be explained by the fact by

    1. the US was but 1 country, but there are are more than ‘1 country’ donating to the US; and

    2. isn’t it also due to the fact that the US economy is far more important globally than SE Asia, and as a result of the still unnaccounted for economic shock that Katrina has and will continue to wage, other countries are perhaps donating as much out of self interest in preserving the health of the global economy (and therefore their own).

  4. And God help you if you end up with a heap of blankets, diapers, crutches and wheelchairs, etc, rotting on a US tarmac somewhere, because they weren’t really needed. Have a guess which heinous critter would eventually get the blame for that ‘incompetence’?

  5. US seeks more NATO help on Katrina aid

    The United States has asked NATO for help in transporting European aid to victims of Hurricane Katrina amid concern that assistance is not getting through to the devastated region quickly enough.

    US ambassador Victoria Nuland asked allies at an emergency meeting to study “a stronger logistical and transport role” for the 26-nation defence alliance in shifting the mass of pledged European humanitarian aid, NATO and US officials said.

    “Especially heavy sea-lift may be used,” said one NATO official, who requested anonymity. Some airlift assistance was also being examined.

    NATO ambassadors were expected to take a decision on the request on Friday, and a mission could be mobilised within three to five days of an agreement on what was to be transported.

    “There was broad support for this in the meeting today,” a US mission spokesman said.

    NATO, together with the European Union, is already acting as a clearing house for European offers of help to Katrina victims ranging from medical supplies, tents, water purification and high-speed pumps to diapers, gloves and coats.

    Some European officials have cited snags in getting the aid through.

    One Swedish plane laden with aid was kept waiting this week because it lacked approval to land in the United States.

    NATO nations have a number of “roll-on roll-off” ships suitable for delivering bulky equipment.

    The mission would be an early test of the alliance’s much-heralded NATO Response Force (NRF), a rapid reaction fighting unit created to allow it deploy in trouble zones across the globe within a matter of days.

    Elizabeth, I must congratulate you for once again seeing through the cunning plans of those evil foreigners. They’re only sending help to the injured and the starving out of their own greed and selfishness. The US should make them pay for the privilege.

  6. Did hear FEMA explaining that they would rather have donations arrive where they were needed rather than onto tarmacs, pile up and then have to be moved again.

    Without any intention to upset lawyer readers there is an important factor in the US that Indonesia didn’t have to deal with. Litigation.

    “Thailand Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra said the United States politely declined his country’s offer of doctors and nurses, apparently because it feared malpractice claims. Instead, he said Thailand would send five forensics experts to assist in recovering and identifying the thousands of people feared dead.â€?

    Wasn’t there a fuss about our forensic people leaving Thailand?

    Speaking of lawyers one report said “Oh and to the others asking about the buses… they did look into it, but the lawyers for both sides got in the way.â€?

    Red Cross was more specific than on web site when asked.

    “Red Cross spokesperson Lesly Simmons, who told me that the shipment was not turned away by the US Dept of Homeland Security, but by this agency, The Louisiana Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness (LHLS & EP); formally the Louisiana Office of Emergency Preparedness (LOEP), was created by the Civil Act of 1950 and is under the Louisiana Military Department Ms. Simmons also told me that the Red Cross has never mentioned any involvement in this incident by FEMA, because FEMA wasn’t involved.â€?

    Federal systems have their problems.

    Didn’t read that paranoia into Elizabeth’s comments, bit of a stretch Ian?
    They had help from NATO Sep 11 also.

  7. It seems that Elizabeth’s point no. 2 has merit to it. Afterall, don’t most aid providing countries offer ‘tied’ aid programmes.

    So what is wrong if countires are offering aid to the US, ‘tied’ on the basis that a strong US economy is therefore good for thier own domestic economy.

    Nothing wrong in interlinking good economics and good intentions!

  8. Maybe Ian is sort of onto something. Apparently Cosgrove had major problems with parking space at Darwin airport, despite trying to get them to fly into Townsville. Trouble was the press was in Darwin. There has to be an element of wanting to be seen to be helping US. Not quite sure in the USA’s time of need why Sweden or EU thinks it it important to complain to media about their slowness in accepting and accomodating flights in to the USA.
    North Korean Red Cross is being more sensible. They only offered their condolences, no aid.

  9. Elizabeth’s snide and sniffy comment about bureaucrats is both insulting and wrong. As a person who has worked in private and is currently public, with a wife whose done the reverse, I can tell you she doesn’t know jack. Just ask a planner about an architect! Mind you, US bureaucrats do seem to have a particular streak of bloodymindedness about them. Why is that?

    I don’t see why cash should be necessary for the US, however both expertise and critical supplies have been offered freely, even by Bangladesh (and Cuba, hehe!). It beggars belief that these can be hampered by red tape.

  10. it is many years ssince I studied aid but back then loans, even loans with no interest, didn’t qualify as aid.
    Also most aid from Western countries was tied aid ie it went only through companies of that country however that was classified aid.

    Can someone update me on the latest defnition please?

    Trade is usually better than aid ecept in the case of disasters such as these was also something I was taught and agreed to.
    Is this still the case?

  11. Clearly we ought to do the old traditional thing, organise a multi-national force to go in and restore order, regardless of what the US government may think. After all, they are clearly not in control, which means that they cannot be recognised as the government there. Furthermore, the only justification for the US presence anywhere south of the line between the Mississippi delta and the southern end of the coast of Georgia is that Andrew Jackson went in to restore order. Leaving aside that he created the disorder in the first place, which we have not done in this case, the only other “justification” was the use of a spurious plebiscite using imported voters and a spurious republic that – Warsaw Pact style – invited the power

    At any rate, sending in even a token force with a Nelsonian blind eye would certainly get their act together. I myself am only alive today because a Belgian paratroop commander ignored orders and dropped in a force to relieve Luluabourg; I know it can be done.

  12. 1. wilful Says:
    September 9th, 2005 at 11:13 am
    Elizabeth’s snide and sniffy comment about bureaucrats is both insulting and wrong. As a person who has worked in private and is currently public, with a wife whose done the reverse, I can tell you she doesn’t know jack. Just ask a planner about an architect! Mind

    Snide and sniffy!

    Does your wife known that you’ve accused her of ‘knowing jack’!

    I would take a guess that the reason that she is struggling is not because of her abilities, but because of the very fact that she is struggling with public servants colleagues and work culture that promotes intransigence, time wasting and other assorted inefficiencies. (pick from the list)

    Here’s some humour that puts everything into context.

    Subject: The Modern Noah

    In the year 2005 the Lord came to Noah, who was now living in Australia, and said, “Once again, the earth has become wicked and over-populated, and I see the end of all flesh before me. You need to build another Ark and save 2 of every living thing along with a few good humans.

    You have 6 months to build the Ark before I start the unending rain for 40 days and 40 nights”.

    Six months later, the Lord looked down and saw Noah weeping in his yard – but no Ark.

    “Noah!” He roared, “I’m about to start the rain! Where is the Ark?

    “Forgive me, Lord,” begged Noah, “but things have changed. I needed a building permit. I’ve been arguing with the inspector about the need for a sprinkler system. My neighbours claim that I’ve violated the neighbourhood zoning laws by building the Ark in my yard and exceeding the height limitations. We had to go to the Development Appeal Board for a decision. Then the Department of Transport demanded a bond be posted for the future costs of moving power lines and other overhead obstructions,to clear the passage for the Ark’s move to the sea. I told them that the sea would be coming to us, but they wouldn’t listen.

    Then I had problems getting the wood. There’s a ban on cutting Local trees in order to save an endangered species, the spotted quoll. I tried to convince the environmentalists that I needed the wood to save the quolls – but no go!

    When I started gathering the animals, an animal rights group sued me for confining wild animals against their will. They said it was cruel and inhumane to put so many animals in a confined space.

    Then the local council ruled that I couldn’t build the Ark until they’d conducted an environmental impact study on your proposed flood.

    I’m still trying to resolve a complaint with the Human Rights Commission on how many indigenous people I’m supposed to hire for my building crew.

    The Immigration department is checking the status of most of the people who want to work and I’ve even had a letter from Amanda Vanstone asking about my ethnic background!

    The trades unions say I can’t use my sons. They insist I have to Hire only Union workers with Ark-building experience.

    To make matters worse, the Taxation department has seized all my assets, claiming I’m trying to leave the country illegally with endangered species.

    So, forgive me, Lord, but it would take at least 10 years for me to finish this Ark.”

    Suddenly the skies cleared, the sun began to shine, and a rainbow stretched across the sky.

    Noah looked up in wonder and asked, “You mean you’re not going to destroy the world?”

    “No,” said the Lord. “The Government beat me to it.”

  13. Ha ha, Elizabeth. Not. I am so sick of that modern-day Noah parable. I’ll give you the express refutation.

    Think of it this way – a lunatic who thinks God is talking to him wants to cut down trees that aren’t his to build an ark that will impact on his neighbours and need powerlines and bridges torn down to move, and that will be filled by starving wild animals.

    Do you let him go ahead?

  14. Good response, fatfingers. I would suggest replacing lunatic with person when you use it in future – it would be more politically correct.
    Unfortunately, refuting a joke does not prove a general case.
    In any case, you have said “…[d]o you let him go ahead…” (emphasis added). Elizabeth’s point was that the government was letting him go ahead, but was slowing everything down. A sensible government, if such a thing existed, would have had a look at the facts of the case and then one of allowed it, allowed it with changes or prohibited it. It would not have just slowed it down with stupidity, bureaucratic rules and form filling. His neighbours, however, could have taken some action to stop him or asked him to move on to where he would not have had an effect on his neighbours with these activities – a slow, bureaucratic government would have no role and would not be needed.

  15. …she is struggling with public servants colleagues and work culture that promotes intransigence, time wasting and other assorted inefficiencies. (pick from the list)

    Ever work in the public service Elizabeth?

  16. Ever work in the public service Elizabeth?

    Right, and also: have you worked in the private sector, Elizabeth?

    Experiencing and participating the dot-com boom/bust cycle (typical for market capitalism) was really amazing to me: tens of millions man-hours of work and trillions of paper ‘wealth’ dollars wasted, vanished in the course of just a few weeks. Talk about ‘assorted inefficiencies’…

  17. Apologies for my poor grammar, the misconstrual was probably deliberate however. It is Elizabeth that knows jack, the wife is doing better than fine, in both public and private sectors.

    The main problem working in the public sector is that we have to answer to everyone, and everyone has an opinion.

  18. I blame the tech wreck (and the asian financial crisis) at least in part on US dollar deflation.

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