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Should Hurricane Katrina's victims receive international assistance?

Written by Ed Clay


Dr. Ed Clay, a leading expert on drought and international food aid policy, was interviewed last week on BBC Newsnight and BBC World Service, in relation to the US hurricane disaster. He responded to Juli Mahoney of the US, in response to her call for international assistance to address the plight of the hurricane's victims, as follows:

"Thanks for your thoughtful response to my broadcast. First, the US President on Thursday September 1st publicly ruled out accepting official international assistance. However he was more ambiguous about private appeals and responses. I am sure that many US secular and faith-based organisations will launch appeals and those in sister/brother organisations in other countries and individuals moved by what they see and hear will want to respond. But there is a serious ethical issue of responsibility which was made clear by what happened after the Indian Ocean Tsunami. Whatever people's intentions, and let us accept that they are all genuine in seeing what they give as an extra donation to charity, at least part of the money that goes to such high profile, immediate good causes comes from a decline in donations to other charities. Many of the appeals on behalf of people in the world's poorest countries are under-subscribed and the net effect of the Tsunami was to reduce contributions to many other appeals. So both those in the US who appeal for support from overseas and those outside who give to such appeals should be aware that there will probably be, based on past experience, some diversion of assistance from other much poorer countries. Consider for example Niger, which even before the current food crisis began, was classified amongst the ten poorest countries with a per capita GNI of $180 a year, had a poverty head count of 63% and 34% of its people suffering undernourishment (insufficient calorie intake). Again, as I said, if there were areas of highly specialised skill or equipment that were needed immediately to save lives and requested, then the convention is that disaster response organisations elsewhere will try to help. But are there really any such gaps in the US's enormous pool of skills and resources? These are difficult issues which you and others are raising, but, on balance, I would suggest that it would be better if the people of America, the world's most powerful and richest country could address this terrible disaster with their own resources. I hope too that after the initial chaos your country will set an example in how it should be done".

Juli Mahoney's message to Dr. Clay is in the 'comments' section under this posting. To read a new ODI Opinion by Dr. Clay on the Niger food crisis, click here.