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Fragmented Aid Leaves Africa Hungry

By Jimmy Carter

This article originally appeared in USA TODAY, Dec. 22, 1993.

Former President Jimmy Carter says that despite aid, more Africans are hungry today than 20 years ago.

Media sound bites and headlines simplify the tragedies of suffering populations in Somalia, Sudan, Liberia and other underdeveloped countries where decades of neglect by the international community have snowballed into crisis.

The more I am immersed in the societies of the Third World, the more I see the inseparable relationships among peace, freedom, democracy and human rights, particularly the right to have food. I also believe more strongly than ever that the world community has the means and obligation to help Africa realize the clear and present possibilities of a better life for its people.

Africa suffers severely in ways not always recognized by rich nations. The average African now has 70 fewer calories per day than 20 years ago, and during that time the number of hungry people has more than doubled. Millions of Africans suffer from easily preventable diseases - such as river blindness and the crippling Guinea worm disease - that are no longer even known by people in the developed world.

Military and political oppressors continue to deprive the African people of education, health, self-respect, dignity and self-rule - the seeds of bitter civil war. People who are starving, people who are hopeless, people who have no control over their own affairs are inclined to react with violence if faced with protecting their own families. These afflictions on Africa are not being alleviated at the highest levels of the world political order. In fairness, they also are not being adequately addressed in Africa, either within or among the continent's leading nations. But the post-Cold War world has the potential to create new models of global cooperation and leadership to stimulate progress and sustainable development.

The problem of hunger is a clear example of the failures of development aid. Although there is enough total food for everyone in the world, and will be for the next three decades, people even in lands of agricultural plenty are starving. The solution lies in better coordinating the domestic and international food distribution, a central concern for other resources as well.

There are too many fragmented, uncoordinated programs in a single country addressing the same problems in isolation from each other. Some African heads of state have told me that this cacophony of assistance offers leaves them not knowing where to turn. Agencies compete for local resources and jealously guard their turf, hesitating to admit failure or that cooperation with others could improve their effectiveness. Moreover, program managers are moved around too frequently. I know of no country in which one person is responsible for the long-term success or failure of an aid project to reduce hunger. The price for these bureaucratic shortcomings is premature death for millions of people.

There needs to be a comprehensive approach to aid in each country, a task force both among the donors who must cooperate thoroughly with one another and among the recipients in a country who must cooperate with each other.

Globally, too, official agencies must communicate with each other and be willing to coordinate their actions and resources.

While the World Bank is rapidly increasing its emphasis on nutrition, for instance, USAID is relegating it to a lower priority. Non-governmental organizations also should be welcomed into the planning process and included in comprehensive action programs.

One of the most unfortunate oversights of the development process has been the exclusion of the recipient groups, who should be treated as full partners in an aid process designed to help them attain self-sufficiency. Private groups, especially women and the poorest people, must have a full role in shaping the final programs in their villages and in the context of their own cultures. Related to this is the frequent failure of research institutions to address the practical needs of local people.

Eliminating protectionism in rich countries, through such measures as the GATT and NAFTA agreements, is also essential to securing a better future in poorer nations. The value of production and trade opportunities lost in developing countries far exceeds the total global budget of foreign aid they receive. The export of highly subsidized and surplus grains to developing countries and artificially low prices for domestic grain kills incentives for production.

Recognizing that development aid in general has not been efficient or effective, U.N. Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali and I sponsored a conference at The Carter Center of international donor agencies and recipient countries to find ways to improve the aid process.

As a result, an experimental Global Development Initiative to coordinate aid will be tested in Guyana, Ethiopia and one or two other countries that have demonstrated a commitment to peace and democracy. Unless such nations begin to alleviate suffering and experience economic progress, they will be threatened by the rejection of democracy and resumption of conflict.

There are possibilities for cooperation, friendship, understanding and sharing among rich nations of the world and countries that yearn for a better life. The people of Africa await the political will of their own leaders and the recognition of the world community that progress on the continent is possible and in the best interest of us all.

Jimmy Carter is former President of the United States.

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