Tuesday, January 04, 2005

Where will the aid go?

There has been a vast outpouring of donations from the British public over the last week. While this is a credit to the British public, there are a couple of uncomfortable questions.

(1) How many palms will be greased?

Indonesian society is massively corrupt. I mean monumental. No one who has only lived in Britain or America can ever grasp the way in which large swathes of the world live with corruption as a way of live. I have been told by friends who have lived in Indonesia that no experience, apart from perhaps doing business in Russia, can ever prepare you for Indonesia. It's worse than Africa.

(2) Are there any incentives for inflating the death toll?

If there are (extra funding for example) you can be sure that the toll will be inflated. The same goes for the amount of homeless.

(3) When will we know when to stop?

There are already siren voices asking whether we will forget the victims after they have been fed, clothed, tented and medicated. Well that's just what needs to be done. The last thing that any place needs is to become dependent on the international community's dole, in the way that African "success stories" such as Uganda have. When farming skills atrophy and industrialisation stops that is a failure and not a success for compassion. As tough as it sounds the areas will need to fix itself.

One of the most hopeful signs has been the aid that has come from the inhabitants of the countries affected, often outracing the more sophisticated foreign charities.

This does not mean that we should not give. Some of the aid will get through, more if we carefully choose the charity, and this will save lives. And saving lives is the name of the game, for now.


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