How Much is Too Much Help?

A U.S. helicopter makes a water drop in Haiti earlier this year. From Time.com.

“Give a man a fish and he will eat for a day. Teach him how to fish and he will eat for a lifetime.”

The concept behind this Chinese proverb is simple. The best way to help someone long term is to give them a way to help themselves.

Yesterday, I posted a link to an article on the Facebook page from The Atlantic that posited that Food Aid in countries like Haiti after humanitarian disasters can do more harm than good from a long term perspective.

In terms of Haiti, the article theorizes that the greatest damage some say the U.S. could have done comes out of where the aid is coming from. Most of the food sent as aid to other countries comes from American farmers, and American shipping companies are given the contracts to deliver the food. This free food can damage the prospects of Haiti’s native farmers, and-in turn, dent the country’s already fragile economy pretty significantly.

In a similar case, the Prime Minister of Pakistan is warning that the flooding in his country could slow economic growth and create an epidemic of job loss. Already, he is warning that many of the country’s industries will inevitably face an uphill battle in the next year, an uphill battle that can be steepened if food and other production comes from outside countries.

None of this is to say that short term, immediate aid isn’t necessary. The U.S. and other world powers absolutely have a responsibility to do whatever they can in the aftermath of devastating events in other, less fortunate countries. Nevertheless, it’s important to realize that this is merely a band aid on the problem that can do more harm than good in the long run if the bigger issues go unaddressed.

There are signs that Haiti could be working its way toward building a new infrastructure. Stories previously posted on this blog speak of counselors working with kids and Haitians living in refugee camps demonstrating the possible birth of a system that could model the future of the country. Today, an article came out highlighting a retired Florida school teacher rebuilding schools in Haiti in hopes of continuing to educate the children there. It’s important for the U.S. and other aid-giving countries to recognize the value in similar programs and encourage devastated countries like Haiti to flourish and build.

One commenter on the Facebook page mentioned a book, Dead Aid, which looks at why aid being sent to turbulent and suffering African countries is no longer working and is only funding and abetting government corruption in the countries that receive it. If anyone has read this book, let me know what you thought of it and the points it makes. Worth picking up?

Additionally, what are ways you think the U.S. could do a better job of aiding in infrastructure building for devastated countries looking to build a better future?

What do you think? Have your say in the comments?

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