Tuesday, August 02, 2005

How to help anti-hunger efforts

Last week, I encouraged readers to make a donation to the World Food Program or some other organization to help them with the famine in Niger and potential famine in Mali, Mauritania and Burkina Faso.

After a drought and an invasion of locusts, the UN and other agencies warned LAST YEAR that the Sahel countries would face food shortages and appealed for money. Yet the UN's emegency relief coordinator noted last week that the international community has put more money into the Niger relief effort over the past 10 days than it had during the previous 10 months.

In the wake of these food emegencies, international organizations are re-visiting their whole approach to fighting hunger. Some are calling for organizations to build up a surplus of money, a savings account if you will, that it can tap into when these food emergencies start to happen. By building up an emergency fund, organizations could react to situations before they became crises.

The conventional wisdom, until now, is that famines don't occur in democracies. I believe someone even won a Nobel Prize in economics a few years ago based on that theory. The infamous famine in Ethiopia was precipitated in no small part by the disastrous policies of the dictatorial Derg regime. The food emergency in Zimbabwe, formerly the bread basket of southern Africa, is not unrelated to strongman Robert Mugabe's program of stealing land from white farmers to give to his cronies; it's being compounded by the regime's alleged manipulation of international food aid for political purposes.

However, Niger is a democracy. A young democracy, but a democracy nonetheless. They have free elections. They have protests. They have a free press. The latter has been critical about what is seen as the government's slow response to the food crisis (the government counters that it's been making international appeals since last year). So is Mali. So are the southern African countries of Zambia, Malawi and Mozambique, where there is also a drought-provoked food crisis.

Developing an emergency fund is a good idea. The trick is getting enough money to build that emergency fund in the first place. Ordinary people tend to be fairly generous AFTER they see pictures of starving children broadcast into their living room, but usually not until that point.

Props to Ethan over at ...My Heart's in Accra blog. I encouraged people to make a one-time donation. But Ethan pointed a way that those so inclined can make a regular monthly donation to the Nobel Peace Prize-winning Médecins sans frontières (Doctors Without Borders) to help build up that fund so they can respond to emergencies in a timely manner. MSF has a program called Field Partners where they make an automatic deduction from your checking account or credit card as a donation. They have options from $60 a month ($2 a day) even down to $7.50 a month (25 cents a day). Click here for more info. Please consider it.

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