Where's the Food Aid?

| Thu Jun. 15, 2006 6:06 PM EDT

Let's rattle off some numbers here: The Pentagon is currently spending $300 million on a propaganda program to sneak stories favorable to the United States into foreign newspapers. In May, meanwhile, the United Nation's emergency food agency had collected only $14 million of the $37.3 million needed to continue its feeding programs. Across Africa, 16 million people are "facing starvation of debilitating malnutrition. And so on.

You can see where this is going. Those figures come from this Salon piece by Samuel Lowenberg on the dire need for food aid to stave off world hunger. It's become fashionable to say that "aid doesn't work," but food aid works perfectly well—it's just underfunded. And what aid there is usually pours in long after a famine has struck, when it's too late. (Famine insurance might help alleviate this problem, however.) Most food aid from the United States, meanwhile, must be used to purchase U.S. crops, a subsidy to agribusiness that causes delays in aid delivery and usually undercuts local markets. No doubt "local corruption" makes some food aid ineffective, but there are more immediate problems that can be addressed first.

There's also the argument that emergency food aid is just a stopgap measure. Give a man a fish and all that. True, but Africa has never received the sort of long-term agricultural development assistance that Latin America and Asia received during the Cold War—currently, only a small fraction of U.S. food aid to Africa is set aside for this purpose. This is stuff that's extremely doable. It's just not done. And people really are dying unnecessarily.

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