Provocations

Posted on December 1, 2011 by David Creech

A lot could be said today…

It is World AIDS Day, 30 years after the first case of HIV/AIDS was diagnosed in a medical journal.  Bishop Hanson released a formal statement here.  You can learn about the ELCA’s HIV and AIDS strategy here.  You can financially support healthcare related work of the church here.

I could also speak to the important climate change conference in Durban, South Africa.  I think I will have more to say when the conference finishes but for now I will say that the U.S. is not helping the conversation move forward (of course the obligations are asymmetrical–we hold a disproportionate amount of responsibility!).

Instead of delving more deeply into the previous two topics I would like to ask for the wisdom and insight of my readers.  I am perplexed.  I often wonder why we behave in less than rational ways.  For example, this last Sunday in the NYT, I read this fabulous opinion piece by Samuel Loewenberg on the current famine in the Horn of Africa.  The author notes that although the best way to avoid famine is to work on long-term development, we insist on waiting until there is a full blown crisis to respond.  Loewenburg reminds us that

A common misconception is that hunger crises are about a lack of food. Yet there is food in Kenya and Ethiopia, and even in many parts of Somalia. The real issue is poverty. The people affected are poor to begin with; when things turned bad, they had no recourse. In April the World Bank reported that 44 million people worldwide were pushed over the edge by skyrocketing food prices.

He continues,

Such a perspective is largely missing in our food-aid program. It’s like a health insurance system that waits until someone has a full-blown illness before he or she can get treatment.

What Loewenburg writes is not exactly rocket science (but it is very good!).  If you have systems in place to produce and distribute food effectively you will not be as subject to inevitable shocks.  We see this in the Horn of Africa, where the famine is most acute where the government is most dysfunctional–Somalia.  From the standpoint of the U.S. and people who only give to emergencies, why do we continue to work so ineffectively?  Why not start at the root of the problem (development) and work to create the systems and structures that will feed and support so many more people? (ELCA World Hunger recognizes that sometimes emergency aid is needed just to get to the next day, but it is part of a larger development strategy.)  So, faithful readers, are you more likely to give to an emergency or to support long-term development?  If it is the former, I would love to hear the logic.

Related, I was shocked to find that for ELCA World Hunger’s disaster appeal for the Horn of Africa, we had raised to date about $768,500 for emergency aid.  To date, our appeal for the tsunami in Japan has raised nearly four times as much (more than $2.8 million).  While I see the value in supporting people in Japan, and I know the money will be put to good use, I wonder why we are so moved to help a fully industrialized nation with it’s own emergency response and safety nets in place, but so slow to support the Horn of Africa where the need is much greater.  I have some ideas, but I would love to hear why you think a gift for Japan may be more compelling than a gift for the Horn of Africa.

The title warned you. Let the conversation begin!

David Creech

 

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