Reporter 416, 9 March 1998

Short-term fix to an age-old problem

Governments are neglecting relief programmes which could prevent famine in favour of quick results which look good on television, a University researcher has warned.

Philip White, project manager at the School of Geography and Centre for Development Studies, says that barely one per cent of funds spent on emergencies are provided for short-term programmes that could restore the agricultural production of rural populations hit by disasters. Instead, the bulk of funds go into emergency food relief, last-ditch attempts to prevent disasters turning into famines.

Speaking at the recent British International Studies Association annual conference in Leeds, Mr White said: “Governments are prone to act in ways that bring them political credit at home by producing quick results. There is much more kudos in providing aid of the sort that gets on television screens than in agricultural aid that might curtail or prevent famine.”

Emergency and longer-term assistance for agriculture can be more cost-effective than emergency food aid, explained Mr White. He has drafted a manual for the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), which coordinates such work for the United Nations. This identified an eight-stage programme for combating starvation: prevention, preparedness, early warning, impact and needs assessment, relief, rehabilitation, reconstruction and sustainable recovery.

Mr White added: “Given the very high costs of relief, the rationale is not only one of minimising the acute suffering associated with emergencies, but one of reducing their costs and freeing resources for recovery and development.”

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