The Corner

The Aid Generates the Problem

Lots of agreement (and no disagreement) on my Tuesday post about humanitarian aid. Here are two reports from readers, one foreign and one domestic.

Reader A:

Mr. Derbyshire — Regarding your post on NRO Tuesday afternoon, I can attest to the validity of the contention that well-meaning aid organizations often exacerbate the problem which they are supposedly there to alleviate.

In January of 1994 I was deployed to Mogadishu, Somalia with the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit, partly in response to the “Blackhawk Down” incident.

As part of our preparation we were given extensive intelligence briefings on the history and culture of Somalia. A little acknowledged fact is that there was no famine in Somalia prior to the U.N.’s arrival. To be sure, there were localized food shortages and hunger, but no widespread famine.

The famine began when the U.N. arrived and began giving away food. With free food available, farmers cold not sell their crops and so they stopped farming; the U.N. became the major source of food.

Once U.N. aid convoys were the only viable source of food, it was easy for the warlords to seize the unarmed convoys and food warehouses and monopolize the food supply. Presto, instant famine.

So ended my belief that the U.N. was anything more than a third-rate debating society. Incidentally, the northern half of the country was generally stable (and, I believe, remains so). They sought to break away from the south and form their own nation but were prevented by the U.N. They remain shackled to the the dysfunctional south to this day.

Reader B:

Mr. Derbyshire — I can speak with some authority regarding the motivations of those in the “helping professions” generally, having spent well over two decades working for non-profits, mainly government funded. I was politically perhaps a tad right of center at the start. I am now firmly well right of same.

If there was one characteristic of my colleagues that was consistent, and that I found ever more dismaying it was precisely that they needed our clients, likely more than our clients ever needed them. I watched in chagrin as, on those occasions that our work actually began to make a dent in the problems we were funded to ameliorate, they found a new population of clients who needed them, or alternatively advanced solutions that guaranteed failure to keep the clients dependent.

Just one example, the methadone program which I eventually became Director of. (No, I did not use “maintenance,” only detoxification. I’ve a pretty strong conviction that human dignity trumps continuing employment of social workers.) Before losing its license for fraud, the program had established a “Client Council” to advise and consent to treatment methodology. After my agency took over the failed program, and I began to clean house, a group of clients approached me to ask when I would be reconstituting the Council. Never, I told them. I explained that it seemed patently obvious to me that if they knew how to get off the heroin themselves, they’d have done so without needing taxpayers money to accomplish the task. I was therefore of the opinion that the staff was better equipped (if anyone at all is, I’m with Anthony Daniels on the subject) to determine what might be effective.

Lost 15 percent of our client base to the Meth program 40 miles away (keep in mind that doses must be picked up daily, except Sundays) that used maintenance, and client directed counseling. At one time I’d considered Methadone Maintenance a case of unintended consequences. I came to believe that the consequences, i.e., a captive client population and thus eternal need for the “helpers,” were quite intentional.

It seems to me that those of us who want to be helpers probably ought be barred from the work. There’s a list of professions for which I think that’s true, prison guards, congressmen, presidents …

John Derbyshire — Mr. Derbyshire is a former contributing editor of National Review.

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