My Daughter gave me the idea for this blog post when she Emailed that question to me. Think about it: an earthquake and aftershocks in Nepal; mudslides in Colombia; “boat people” risking their lives to escape Myanmar and North Africa; teenage girls taken captive in Nigeria and sectarian genocide throughout the Middle East. The complexities of these various and different problems each has its own causes and effects.
Just a few of the underlying problems, with each daunting in their own right, are as follows:
1. A great deal of these problems, such as the internecine hatred among peoples–based mostly on ethnic, religious or tribal differences–goes back centuries, or perhaps even millennia. In some cases, like the Sunni-Shia schism, some actually believe that it is documented in the holy scriptures. Nonsense!
2. In countries such as Nepal, the effected areas can be extremely remote and lacking the necessary infrastructure (highways, bridges, tunnels and airports), either to get aid workers and supplies in, or to evacuate refugees and the injured.
3. Poor countries often lack the functioning government and financial resources to provide the required assistance. Also, their standard-of-living is often quite low, to begin with.
4. Rampant corruption is often the biggest problem underlying any potential solutions. In fact, money truly does make the third world go ‘round. Sure, we also have it in the West too; but, it is generally more subtle and buried behind layers of cover-up. Even the local chapters of international relief organizations, such as the Red Cross, are often not trusted by the local population.
Outside nations and corporations do not have the best records in helping, due to numerous examples of past greed or inept behavior. Consider the following:
1. Colonial powers in the past have conquered or partnered with primitive countries, propped-up the corrupt elements of the local society in leadership positions, and stole much of their precious assets (oil, ivory, rubber, gold, diamonds, etc.), paying very little in return.
2. The American Invasion of Iraq, in 2003,broke the fragile balance-of-power between secular Iraq and Shia Iran. The resultant sectarian violence gave birth to the Islamic State, among other Jihadist groups. And George, you never got that coveted oil!
3. In South America, United Fruit (an American company) wrecked havoc on countries like Colombia, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Honduras, etc. It robbed them of their banana crops, established criminals as government leaders, and earned it the reputation of being the Father of the (term) “Banana Republic”!
Back in the late 1960s, I can recall driving through rural areas of (South) Vietnam. There were just fields and fields of terraced rice paddies, with the farmers working knee-deep on their mud-soaked land. Rather than tractors, water buffalo were their beasts of burden.
I remember thinking at the time that Saigon (now Ho Chi Minh City) was as distant in mind as it was in physical distance. The politicians in the Capital apparently knew nothing of the rural people–nor did they care. And the Vietnamese peasants, in-turn, didn’t feel any allegiance to, or expect any assistance from, the national government.
Currently, I don’t believe that that relationship has changed at all–and regardless of the country. In many cases, whatever contributions a government makes to their nation’s infrastructure, economic well-being and security, often stops once you travel outside the immediate capital region. And some leaders don’t even dare drive outside their local comfort zones.
Some in the West, especially during a slowly recovering economy, question why funds and aid are being sent overseas when they could be better used to re-build parts of their own countries. Many Conservative governments use that ploy; however, they just want to reduce spending. Period! So, keeping the money at home appears to just be a ruse. In every society, those who have more should share with those who have less. Just remember that a great deal of our economic well-being is merely due to the luck-of-the-draw!
Consider Sandtown-Winchester, the area of West Baltimore, Md. where Freddie Gray lived and died–thus sparking the recent riots. That neighborhood is the worst of the worst. And yet, the area’s problems go back generations, centuries even, and the locals haven’t seen any state or federal aid. Just think: Annapolis, the state capital, is just a half-hour away, and Washington barely an hour. To me, this looks like rural Vietnam back in the 60s, the people living outside in Nepal or the Yazidis fleeing religious persecution in Syria. Nothing ever seems to have changed–or it would have!
So, if help from within is often ineffective, and foreign nations and corporations often place their own interests first, what is the solution? In many cases, the people who truly can make a difference leave–the country, or the local area. The “Brain Drain”! And that is unfortunate; because, the success stories, which are often few and far between, can be doubly important. Besides having the capacity to better understand what needs to be done and potentially correct the situation, they also demonstrate that people can prosper and grow successfully in that local area. The people there are not dumb or lazy, they just need a leg-up.
Here are some possible solutions–at least to a partial extent:
1. Outside countries can offer assistance; however, it must be done in a totally hands-off manner and through the democratically elected process. Such aid could be administered like start-up funding for young businesses: require a needs and analysis plan; provide incremental allocations; verifying progress and requiring an adequate accounting.
2. Consider contributing to well-known international relief agencies, such as: the International Red Cross/Crescent, U.N. agencies; Doctors without Borders; etc. Generally, they have their team on the ground, know what has to be done and negate the opportunity for corruption.
3. Research transparent private foundations, such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. It partners with local organizations, and often targets well-defined needs. It requires proper accountability.
Any realistic advancement or corrective process must come from within, whether it be another country, a region or an American Inner-City. Guidance and funding will only work if the locals are involved, and the help is to be accepted and trusted. Granted, many of the problems noted above are daunting; however, with each and every “baby step” taken, the problems just shrink that much more. There is no other option!