Saturday, January 16, 2010

International Aid

In a conversation with a friend about Haiti, we got onto the topic of the problems inherent in distributing aid and making sure it gets to the right people. It reminded me of one of the best sketches SNL has ever done. It is hilarious, gets in a bunch of good digs at Bill, and yet is a perfect demonstration of the problems with sending aid to troubled countries.

Haiti is going to need assistance long after this tragedy fades from public consciousness. This is happening as there's a serious debate going on about the effectiveness of aid, and how we can improve both delivery and results. Secretary Clinton is headed down to Haiti with USAID administrator Rajiv Shah, and it is a good bet that Haiti will be a major issue for Shah for years to come.

With that said, we need to make sure that our aid money is being spent well, and producing results. In my (infinitely humble and completely unbiased) opinion, one thing that would help immensely is to expand the number of foreign service officers at State and USAID. It's easier to bypass the "warlords" if there are aid workers on the ground, handing food directly to the people who need it. Right now, we don't even have fully staffed embassies. If we want to do a good job of promoting growth and prosperity in impoverished parts of the world, we need more boots on the ground.

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