WHAT CAN WE DO TO EASE THE PAIN AND SUFFERING THAT IS GOING ON ALL AROUND US? AND CAN WE, IN FACT, REALLY HELP?

NOTE:  As Texas, Florida and points north recover from the recent hurricanes, our losses, in America, are counted mostly in dollars and physical destruction.  Natural disasters in less wealthy countries; however, often result in quite a substantial loss of life, in addition to much of what little resources they have.  The following blog posts is re-published from My of 2015; but, in spite of our recent disasters, the global impoverished still suffer immensely!

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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 this instability, 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, various groups 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, but it is often diverted from where it is most needed.  Sure, we also have corruption 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 in many countries.

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.   But, the complicit officials made out!
2. The American Invasion of Iraq, in 2003, broke the fragile balance-of-power between secular Iraq and Shia Iran.  The resultant sectarian violence, within Iraq, gave birth to the Islamic State, among other Jihadist groups.  And George (W. Bush), 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 then, 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, and their needs–nor did they care!  And the Vietnamese peasants, in-turn, didn’t feel any allegiance to, or expect any assistance from, the national government.  In most cases, local warlords–army commanders, insurgents or terrorist groups–are in total control!

Currently, I don’t believe that that relationship has changed at all, regardless of the country.  Also, whatever improvements a primitive government makes to their nation’s infrastructure, economic well-being and security, often stops once you travel outside the immediate capital region.  In fact, some leaders rarely dare drive outside their local comfort zones without a small army in tow!

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.  Conservative governments often use this ploy; however, as a ruse,  merely to reduce spending.  The comparative advantages, which one country enjoys, versus another, are mostly 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 internal assistance is is spread selectively , 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”!  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, the best and the brightest locals are usually better at adopting new programs, as well at adapting them to the local needs.  People in primitive societies 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 delivered 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-analysis plan; provide incremental allocations; verifying progress and requiring an adequate accounting.  Control of any financial assistance must be maintained at the local level!

2. Consider contributing to well-known international relief agencies, such as: the International Red Cross/Crescent (not the local chapters); U. N. agencies; Doctors without Borders; etc.   Generally, these organizations have their teams 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.  “A Path Appears” is a wonderful book by Pulitzer Prize winning couple Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn; which, explains many of the problems present in poorer countries, as well as various was that you might help.

Any realistic improvement or corrective solution for these problems must come from within, whether it be an impoverished country, a region of the world or an American Inner-City.  Guidance and funding will only work if the local people (not the governments) are involved, and the help is to be accepted and trusted.  And, no strings!  Granted, many of the problems noted above are daunting; however, with each and every “baby step” taken, the problems just shrink that much more.

Besides, when we help eradicate the major problems–famine, starvation, poverty, inadequate health care, illiteracy, arid conditions–the basis on which terrorism and religious extremism diminishes!

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