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How foreign aid kills

January 5, 2005

Foreign aid worsens the situation faced by victims of natural disasters, perpetuates misery and suffering for years afterward, and provides governments with additional tools of oppression. The current Tsunami crisis makes it critical to review Murray Rothbard's "Doing God's Work in Somalia," a detailed account of how foreign aid caused further death, destruction, and ultimately a botched military intervention in a poor African nation.

Rothbard explains how the racket works. The US government starts to deliver large quantities of food and supplies to the affected refugees and disaster victims. Quickly, the local government and its cronies/thugs recognize an opportunity. They assert control over aid distribution and/or steal large portions of the aid. In areas of religious or ethnic strife, the food aid is used to exert power over minority groups or dissidents opposed to the existing regime. Food and medical equipment may be deliberately withheld in order to starve and kill disfavored populations, while it is used to reward allied groups and factions. In order to maintain their political hegemony, local government actors have every incentive to perpetuate crisis conditions.

In Somalia, explains Rothbard, "the food 'crisis' has been deliberately created by the Somalian government – by [Siad] Barre and his successors – in order to exert control over the Somali population, to tell them when and who shall or shall not eat." It should be noted that Aceh, the hardest hit region of Indonesia, is home to a secessionist movement that has long been brutally suppressed by the Indonesian military. The people of this region are acutely vulnerable to the foreign aid syndrome that has been repeated over and over again in Africa. In Somalia, foreign aid created massive economic distortions that prevented the people from recovering from the initial disaster. Rothbard cites ex-relief worker Michael Maren, who witnessed first hand the role of food aid in Somalia:

"The crucial point, Maren concludes, is that 'reckless use of food aid causes famine. It depresses local market prices and provides disincentive for farmers to grow crops.' All this makes the food shortage worse, and causes greater calls for food relief; and so the well-meaning foreign intervention grows and cumulates, fueled by agency venality, and causes the spiral of famine-aid-famine to get worse and worse. Until finally the marines land to try to solve the problem."

Even private relief agencies, after initially contributing necessary short term humanitarian assistance to refugees and famine victims, eventually became part of the problem of unintended consequences in Somalia. "[T]he real objective of these agencies, Maren has concluded, is to raise money. These outfits are essentially rackets. Even though sending food hasn't really helped, what these agencies can do best is to raise money. 'Aid,' Maren declares, 'is a business. It is a business in which people make careers, earn a good living, get to see interesting places, and have great stories to tell when they get stateside. It's a business that has to earn money to pay its executives, pay for retreats and for officials to attend conferences in Rome, buy four-wheel drive vehicles, buy advertising time on television. It's a business that makes money by attracting clients, i.e., starving, needy people.'"

Honorable humanitarian groups like Doctors Without Borders have informed donors that they already have sufficent resources to cope with the immediate needs of the Tsunami victims. Be wary of any governments (i.e., the U.S.) or relief organizations that continue to take advantage of the latest disaster.

For further info, see Michael Maren's book, The Road to Hell:The Ravaging Effects of Foreign Aid and International Charity.

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