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January 13, 2005

Making something out of tragedy

I hope Adam Gilchrist is right.

If there's one good thing that has come out of the Asian Tsunami, it's the opportunity for the West, particularly the "Coalition of the Willing" to put some effort into making a third-world nation a genuinely better place. To win the hearts and minds of some who may dislike the self-interest and pompous piety of the "haves".

But doing so will not, I suspect, be accomplished with a short-term injection of "foreign aid" that helps rebuild the shattered infrastructure of the affected countries. Doing so will require a long-term compassionate involvement in rebuilding education facilities, teaching better farming practices, sharing some of the benefits of what we know and have invented - rebuilding lives. It's great to see some nations writing off old foreign aid debts, for example.

That means not just saying "You can have this technology/information/facility at our price" but saying "Here, try this for free - it worked for us". Only that kind of long-term relief and assistance will win the hearts and minds of potential third-world terrorists as well as filling their bellies and helping their quality of life. And only a sustained, long-term program of appropriate assistance will do - despit the impressive numbers, the orgasmic fundraising efforts are thus far only a catharsis for Western consciences.

Too many of the efforts Westerners put into third-world nations are inappropriate and half-assed. In Papua New Guinea I saw plenty of villages with a Rotary-funded building called a hospital; with great facilities for providing medical services. But none of these was stocked or staffed. The Rotary people came to PNG, built the building, got their pictures taken beside it, felt good about themselves and then walked away. A year later, the net benefit is negligible.

So I hope Gilly gets what he wanted: a program for Australians to help our neightbours that goes beyond the short-term efforts and really makes the world a sustainably better place. That would do more to win the "War on Terrorism" than the invasion of every potentially despotic nation on the planet.

Posted by Huge at January 13, 2005 2:05 PM

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