TOPICS: Foreign aid in everyone’s interest

The developing world seems like highway traffic. China, India and Chile are in a slipstream of rapid economic growth, closing the technological gap with the industrialised countries, while nations like Nepal, Niger and Sudan are rushing in the reverse direction, with unrest, drought and disease.

The costs of economic failures are enormous for the whole world because conflicts, terrorism, drug trade and refugees spill across borders. But drivers can change direction, and so can countries. India, China and Chile were hardly success stories in the 60s and 70s. All were in turmoil, beset by poverty, hunger and instability. Their transformations show that today’s “basket cases” can be tomorrow’s emerging markets. Those who contend that foreign aid does not work are mistaken. These sceptics make a career of promoting pessimism by pointing to the many undoubted failures of past aid efforts. But the fact remains that we can help ensure successful economic development of the poorest countries. It’s in our national interest to do so.

The first step out of rural poverty always involves a boost in food production to end cycles of famine. Asia’s ascent from poverty in the last 40 years began with a “green revolution.” Food yields doubled or tripled. The Rockefeller Foundation helped with the development and propagation of high-yield seeds, and US aid enabled India and other countries to provide subsidised fertilizer and seeds to impoverished farmers. Once farmers could earn an income, they could move on to small-business development.

A second step out of poverty is an improvement in health conditions, led by improved nutrition, cleaner drinking water and more basic health services. In the Asian success stories, child mortality dropped sharply, which led to smaller families because poor parents gained confidence that their children would survive to adulthood.

The third step is the move from economic isolation to international trade. Chile has become the chief source of off-season fruit in the US during the past 20 years by creating highly efficient supply chains. China and India have boomed as exporters of manufacturing goods and services. In all three, trade linkages were a matter of improved connectivity — roads, power, telecommunications, Internet and transport containerisation.

The sceptics claim that Africa is too far behind, to become a China or India. They are mistaken. An African green revolution, health and connectivity revolutions are all within reach. The standards for successful aid are clear. They should be targeted, specific, measurable, accountable and scalable. They should support the triple transformation in agriculture, health, and infrastructure. We should provide direct assistance to villages in ways that can be measured and monitored. In this conflict-laden world, we must value life everywhere by stopping needless disease and deaths, promoting economic growth and helping ensure that our children’s lives will be treasured in the years ahead. — The Christian Science Monitor