Sunday, May 13, 2012


Food aid is vital for saving thousands of lives, especially in war-torn countries of Africa. USA, by far the most charitable nation on earth diverts a significant portion of its surplus into poor countries with the hope that people would give up armed conflicts once fed properly. The classical surmise is that poverty causes conflicts and any step taken to reduce poverty would automatically reduce the intensity and spread of such conflicts. But recent studies have thrown up disturbing trend which needs to be noted by all donor countries. According to these findings, higher the food aid more will be the tendency to prolong the conflict or begin new conflicts. Incidences of insurgency and armed rebellion invariably increase whenever the US food production generates huge surpluses! 

The above conclusion is based on a scientific analysis of food aid from the US and its consequences during the last 35 years at Harvard University and the significance of the same cannot be belittled. While every body appreciates the yeoman service rendered by the US to humanity the flip side is that such aids hide another selfish agenda which compels the country to send its wheat surpluses to "needy" countries. The peculiar agriculture system that exists in the US mandates the government to buy from the farmers surplus wheat produced, whatever be the quantum at certain support prices and it becomes imperative for the government to dispose of the surplus before the next harvest. Interestingly it was found out that higher the surpluses bigger were the food aid delivered. Probably it makes sense that such humanitarian programs protect the local farmers while a host of economic activity is spurred in the form of more employment and income generation for those handling the aid.

The Study revealed that the surplus shipments of wheat had a consistent impact, albeit negative, on armed conflicts in developing countries who receive such aids. It came out that following high production years in the U.S., regular recipients of aid experienced a jump in both the onset and duration of violent conflict within their borders. The authors of the study further averred that for every 1000 tons increase in U.S. food aid, there was increased incidence of civil conflict by 0.38 percentage points. The same shipment also decreased the probability of an existing civil war ending in a single year by between 0.48 and 0.61 percentage points. Further it was concluded that in a country, already experiencing a conflict, the extra wheat shipped by the U.S. in response to a bumper crop makes it more likely the conflict would continue and if there is not already a conflict, the increased  U.S. production could create new conflicts in such countries. What a tragedy indeed!.

Why is this contradiction? Probably the insurgent groups get as much benefit from distributed foods as those targeted for receiving such aids. It is a fact that in many cases the US government does not identify the constraints in delivering the aid to the targeted beneficiaries and the hurry with which these aids are dispatched because of local storage limitations makes it difficult to work out the distribution logistics properly. It is not realized that many developing countries suffering from civil conflicts due to one reason or the other do not have good road networks or transport infrastructure, making it easy to hijack such supplies by warring groups denying the food to those who really deserve. Besides opposing war groups steal or seize food from refuge camps for buying weapons aggravating the hunger problem as well as the local conflict.

Is there any solution to this problem? Probably none. World has to reconcile to the fact that a certain percentage of food aid coming from donor countries would be diverted regardless of any precaution taken because in many war-ridden countries there is no law and order causing utter chaos and anarchy and deploying international forces for protecting the supplies may suck the latter into the local conflict. One can only console that at least a major part of food aid dies benefit and support large populations which otherwise have no hope of survival.


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