TAKING STOCK : Drop aid by helicopter

Rakesh Wadhwa


Too much importance has been given in Nepal to those who provide aid. If aid was effective in eliminating poverty Nepal would have become rich long ago.

The fact of the matter is that people who are responsible for distributing aid, first see

to it that they themselves become the biggest recipients. Executives of aid agencies

are notorious for giving themselves huge perquisites, and, what the poor get is the left overs, if there be any.

The best way to help the poor in Nepal would be simply this: pack suitcases full of dollars, fly in a helicopter over the poorest villages of Nepal and throw out the dollars from the bags.

Even if some dollars are forever lost, more will reach the poor than if it first goes to the aid agencies.

The donors will just have to pay for the helicopter, this way they spend far more. Executives of organisations dispensing aid usually have huge dollar salaries. They charge for their air tickets and their family’s too. Education expenses of their children in over $10,000 a year schools, vehicles which cost in excess of half a crore each, huge office and home rentals, earthquake proofing of their buildings, entertainment and hardship allowances all add up to a major portion of the aid budgets.

This idea of giving money directly to the needy by helicopter or otherwise is not new, and, in India it was popularised by a person who has seen how aid agencies have to have tonnes of resources to be able to give an ounce of help to the poor. His name is Swaminathan Aiyer and he writes for the ‘Times of India’ every Sunday.

Yes, Nepal is poor and it may seem unthinkable to most that progress is possible without outside help. Samuel Smiles, answered such doubts about our own abilities in his book, ‘Self-Help’ (first published in 1859). It became a best seller of its time and is as relevant today – even over a 100 years after the author’s death, as it was when it first came out.

Samuel says, “if there were no difficulties there would be no success.” Burdens, whether they are on us as individuals or on a nation, make us work harder to remove them and we get tougher in the process. Ask any weight-lifter on how he builds muscles – it is done by constantly increasing the weights that he lifts.

The person and the nation which bears no burden needs to do little. Such persons and countries will also achieve little. It is not aid and charity which make nations great. It is policies which are designed to bring out the best in us. It is policies which make us compete. It is policies which keep a country open to trade and investment. It is policies which do not stifle businesses with taxes and regulations.

David S Landes, professor emeritus of history and economics at Harvard University, talks about Britain’s rise in 18th, 19th and early 20th century in his book, ‘The Wealth and Poverty of Nations’.

“Britain had the makings, but then Britain made itself .” The country’s dominance of the world was “not God-given, not happenstance, but the result of work, ingenuity, imagination, and enterprise”. People of Britain created wealth, aid agencies did not shower them with gold and silver.

All countries at one time were poor. Some became rich. They did so without aid for there was no nation rich enough to aid them. If they can do it so can Nepal. For anyone to think that Nepalis cannot do what people in America, Britain, Spain, Portugal, Canada and Australia could, is to insult them.

Given the right environment, people of Nepal, will surprise everyone with how fast they progress and in how little time they catch up with the developed world. Aid will not do it,

open markets will.

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