We are a year beyond the world's awakening to the suffering in Africa. The intervening months have demonstrated how unprecedented governmental and private generosity saved thousands, perhaps millions, of lives, how some early assumptions required mid-course correction and how at least one bit of doctrine -- that relief and development had to be pursued separately -- was laid to rest.
This last was not a quibble. It inspired debate within governments and private voluntary agencies. The argument was that relief, essentially food, was for today's needs and that development aspired to a higher order of growth in industry in the expectation that benefits would trickle down to the poor. Protagonists argued that you did one or the other, not both.
If you ran food programs, it was said, you risked creating disincentives to local production, or never- ending dependency, or you invited charges of corruption, waste and inefficiency. At the same time, development schemes self-evidently were failing; benefits were not trickling down, and the numbers of people without food were growing.
The failure of ambitious development projects in the "Fourth World" is painfully evident. But with famine remaining a threat, the earlier doctrine of the separation of relief and development has evolved into a new reality: relief, traditionally temporary and disaster-related, and development emphasizing agriculture must be joined. Picture Ethiopia and the image is clear -- a response to emergency compels an effort to save lives and to attack the roots of hunger. Relief is development.
Put it another way: if a need for emergency relief is a function of underdevelopment, as is now accepted, the object of relief must be to strengthen prospects for humanitarian growth. Synonymous in the past with pure productivity, development is better defined today as the quest to provide people with the ability to be more productive. The old clich,e comes true: "Don't give a man a fish. Teach him how to fish."
Those who currently live in what amounts to perpetual danger and vulnerability must be helped to assume more effective control of their own natural, social and economic environments. In this sense, development is the promise of empowerment to those who are now powerless.
Opinions and admonitions abound as to how those in positions to lend a hand in Africa should play that hand. To avoid repeating mistakes of the Sahel drought and famine a decade ago, when huge resources were invested but with inadequate follow up, there must be clear-sighted planning.
Development is an inexact science. It involves, in addition to large amounts of money and technology, changes in attitude and practice, which can occur only over time. Donors must appreciate what is culturally acceptable. For years, for example, Ethiopian peasants have stripped forests of wood for heating and cooking. Solar stove units might be used far more effectively while protecting trees and nourishing the soil to grow more crops, but these units can be introduced only gradually.
It is arguable whether an African equivalent of Asia's "green revolution" in agriculture is reasonable. What is certain is that effective development on that continent will occur only if it truly reflects African reality and African aspirations. Neither donor governments nor well-intentioned private voluntary organizations can impose models from without and expect lasting results.
Projects in agroforestry, irrigation, new crops, health and medicine -- to which Catholic Relief Services is committing $50 million of privately contributed money -- require meticulous coordination. Nobel laureate Norman Borlaug, father of the "green revolution" and recipient of a presidential hunger award, cautioned recently that experts in the development disciplines often "stand in their own shadows" and need to be steered by an able "implementer."
Owing to their small size, the limited cost of their operation, their people-to-people experience and their relative immunity to the pressures of politics and patronage, private voluntary organizations are often the best bet to execute the initial growth in poor societies. But, of course, they cannot work in isolation from a local government's policies.
Relief assistance is the first component -- the entering wedge -- of genuine development. This is the natural way.