October 21, 2005


Development vs. food aid

A plaque in the lobby of Catholic Relief Service’s headquarters in Baltimore explains in simple terms CRS’s mission: “For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me.” The quotation, of course, comes from the 25th chapter of the Gospel according to Matthew.

CRS has long understood that development aid in developing countries is far more important than just giving away food. It has always made it a priority to teach people how to improve their own lives. Nevertheless, the word “relief” is in its name because it too often has to give emergency relief to people caught up in a catastrophe.

Lately, we have seen an abundance of such catastrophes, including the devastating tsunami in southeast Asia last December, the earthquake in Pakistan and India earlier this month, and the continuing crisis in Sudan. The result is that money originally earmarked for development has had to be transferred to emergency relief.

An article in the Oct. 10 issue of the Jesuit magazine America spells out some of the ways development aid is being affected. It was written by G. Jefferson Price III, a consultant to CRS and a former foreign correspondent and editor of The Baltimore Sun.

CRS is not the only agency that is experiencing this problem. It begins with the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), which works through private humanitarian organizations such as CRS, Save the Children, CARE and World Vision. USAID’s 2005 budget included $1.2 billion for food aid, three-quarters of which was supposed to be used for development programs. Now, though, $850 million, or about three-quarters of the budget, has had to be switched to emergency aid.

This has created a crisis for CRS and the other agencies that are helping farmers in developing countries grow more and better crops with USAID’s money. Projects that were started have had to be halted.

The problem is that Congress has not allocated enough money for both emergency aid and development. The private voluntary agencies are asking Congress to allot $2 billion so that money for emergencies doesn’t have to be taken away from development aid. This would be an increase of about $800 million, which seems like a lot of money, but it’s not much in comparison with what the United States is spending in Iraq.

Yes, the United States has experienced its own share of catastrophes this year, and charity begins at home. And yes, we do have to figure out how we’re going to pay for our emergencies. But we must not slack off on the help we give to the poor countries of this world. We are the wealthiest country in the world and we have a responsibility to continue to help those less fortunate.

President George W. Bush has stressed that the elimination of hunger and the stability that such elimination generates is not only the moral thing to do, but it is also essential to America’s national security. He said in this year’s State of the Union address: “If whole regions of the world remain in despair and grow in hatred, they will be the recruiting grounds for terror.”

As Price said in his article in America, “Unfortunately, the overwhelming bulk of the constituency for a more realistic amount [of money in the U.S. budget] is not in the United States and it is not clamorous. It resides in practically inaccessible small villages in places like Angola, Madagascar and India. The beneficiaries of development aid eke out a day-to-day existence without enough food, with inadequate water supplies, little health care and sanitation to speak of, little access to education and little preparation for the disasters that may strike them.”

Those are the things that development aid programs are providing for millions of people. Price gives numerous examples of how that aid is working, especially through the so-called food-for-work programs in which villagers are paid with food to improve their communities and enhance their crops.

Congress should make sure there’s enough in USAID’s budget so there doesn’t have to be a choice between development and food aid. We can provide both.

— John F. Fink


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