John Goshko's excellent article on foreign aid {Sept. 4} points up the fact that the American people have a shortsighted attitude toward these programs. Two years ago, we responded quickly and generously to the famine in Ethiopia, moved by the sight of starving children on TV. The U.S. government gave $800 million in emergency relief, and a year later the crisis faded into the background. Meanwhile,a proven program for long-term development,such as the Sub-Saharan Program of the International Fund for Agricultural Development,has trouble getting funded for $8 million.

The United Nations is expected to start an international appeal for emergency food aid for Ethiopia, where another famine appears to be developing. I suspect that once again public response will be laudatory, but how much better it would be to have a public commitment to long-term development projects that make people self-sufficient.

REBECCA GATWOOD Silver Spring

I suggest that John Goshko's welcome and comprehensive article on foreign aid is misleading in one significant respect.

In reporting on the $13-billion-plus figure reported out by the House Appropriations Committee, Mr. Goshko says, "Essentially, the aid is of two types:military assistance and economic aid. Normally, the ratio of expenditures is about two-thirds economic aid and one-third military."

In my view, a more meaningful comparison would be between development assistance and security assistance -- that is, between aid given to help poor countries grow economically and improve the quality of life of their poor majorities and aid, whether economic or military, provided for reasons of U.S. geopolitical strategy.

This difference in interpretation focuses on an item called the Economic Support Fund, which is economic assistance granted to countries such as Egypt, Israel, Turkey and Pakistan for essentially strategic and political (not economic) reasons. The committee's figure for this item is approximately $3.1 billion; when added to the military assistance total of about $5.2 million, it practically reverses Mr. Goshko's ratio: the total recommended becomes 63 percent security-related and 37 percent development-related.

Supporters of genuine development assistance have been arguing this by-no-means arcane point with people in the administration and Congress for years. It would seem important that this distinction among the purposes of foreign aid be kept clearly in mind. MARTIN M. McLAUGHLIN Arlington