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Enough aid already

Posted by Helen Sunday, January 09, 2005

As our readers know, this blog was one of the most enthusiastic chroniclers of the effort that brought immediate help to and aided more sustainable reconstruction in the areas devastated by the tsunami. We reported in detail the solid work done by the Americans, Australians, Japanese, Indians and Chinese, and the support given by some European countries. We also reported on the posturing by the EU, the NGOs (still in the process of collecting many millions of pounds, whose eventual destiny is unknown) and, most of all, the greatest tranzi of them all, the UN with its egregious SecGen, Kofi Annan (father of Kojo of the oil-for-food scandal fame).

That was then, immediately after the disaster. Now it is different. Now the countries must be left to recover, using their own resources. What the West needs to do, is to help that process by removing those appalling trade barriers that prevent development and deny the people of South-East Asia proper money for their work.

As my colleague has pointed out, these sentiments (which are not, in any case, particularly radical, except among the grandees of British media and politics) are being echoed in the stricken countries as well, in particular by the Prime Minister of Thailand, Thaksin Shinawatra.

In the meantime, the egregious Mr Annan has announced with a resounding sigh of relief, occasioned largely, one imagines by the thought that as long as he can spin the post-tsunami crisis out, his own personal position will not be under discussion, that the people of the area struck by the tsunami will not starve. Well, why should they? There is plenty of food in those countries and the farming areas were not affected.

They will be affected very badly if the UN persists in piling in free food and dumping it on the beaches for people to grab it as best they can. While there is free food, people will not pay. This will undermine the farmers, the retailers, the market stall holders, the shopkeepers or, in other words, the local economy.

This would not be the first time the UN’s activity has had this kind of result. At least part of the reason farmers in Afghanistan turned to poppy growing was because they could not sell the food with the UN and NGOs bringing free supplies in.

If the UN wants to help it could co-ordinate (please note gratuitous use of the UN's favourite word) the restoration of transport and communication, buy food from the local producers, if the villagers on the seashore really have no money, but buy it at local market prices not to destabilize the micro-economy and encourage local reconstruction as far as possible. But that is unlikely to produce big news items on the likes of the BBC. So those well-paid UN employees will continue to posture, dump huge amounts of food, dislocate local production and distribution and, eventually, withdraw, leaving a horrendous mess behind them.