The simplistic approach of my childhood in answering the problem of world famine is not too far off the reality of what actually happens with food aid today. Firstly, food aid tends to go to places with a definable address - usually the cities. This is unfortunate, for most aid is needed in rural areas. The next problem is that some 60% of European and 30% of American food aid is 'programme aid' which is given to governments to sell. Often its sold in the cities and the funds raised go to buy tanks rather than seeds for the next seasons crops. Otherwise it goes to feed armies before those who are actually starving.
Thirdly, food aid cuts food prices reducing incentives for local farmers to grow their own crops creating a long-term dependence syndrome. And finally, as witnessed in Rwanda, aid is often provided without the necessary transport and therefore rots on quay sides and airport tarmacs.
So food aid, in whatever form it takes, is fraught with problems and complexities. Yet famine is largely a human-made phenomenon - it can be predicted well in advance, and there is a chronic imbalance of food production and consumption between the First and Third Worlds. Who has the heart to tell an Ethiopian that in Europe, you can now ski the EC butter mountain?
Governments and aid agencies alike need to revisit their various aid strategies and re-target their resources appropriately. Otherwise the generous donations furnished to them following publicity campaigns may well dry up. And hey, just how 'generous' are us kiwis anyway? Official aid statistics from the OECD show good ol' New Zealand third-to-last in a ranking of 20 countries sorted in 1991 by the amount of aid dispersed relative to GDP.
Well that is the global perspective. If you want to act locally, you could actually volunteer assistance in an aid agency and get to know the ins-and-outs of famine relief. Alternatively, when you have finished your time at University, instead of taking the hedonistic OE, why not think about working for the Peace Corps, Volunteer Services Abroad, or other such hands-on aid agencies. Small scale highly personal projects are often the most successful.
Robert Bentz Ashe