Nickolas Kristof offers one of the best responses yet to skeptics of foreign aid who believe that conventional aid always leaves African countries worse off. He acknowledges that aid is sometimes oversold, and that aid can be made more effective. But overall, he believes that carefully targeted aid can good; not bad or ugly. He launches his persuasive argument with a moving personal experience:
Just to place this issue in context, consider a family I visited in a malarial jungle in Cambodia. The mother had just died of malaria, so the grandmother was left looking after five children — but she had only one mosquito net that could accommodate three children. So every night the grandmother had to decide which three children to put under the bed net and which to expose to malaria. I left the grandmother money to buy another net…
Extrapolating this experience to the global level, he uses the successful eradication of smallpox to demonstrate how both the recipients and the providers of foreign aid might benefit:
The U.S. invested $32 million over 10 years in the global battle against smallpox. That sum is recouped every two months, simply because Americans no longer need to get vaccinated against smallpox. So that investment has yielded a 46 percent annual return since smallpox was eradicated. In addition, an estimated 1.5 million people used to die annually of smallpox. So eradication has saved around 45 million lives over the last three decades. Smallpox was a great success but not a fluke. Among other historical foreign aid successes are immunizations, oral rehydration therapy and the green revolution…More broadly, when we pay a few hundred dollars for fistula surgery so that a teenage girl no longer will leak urine or feces for the rest of her life, that operation may not stimulate economic growth. But no one who sees such a girl's happiness after surgery can doubt that such aid is effective, for it truly saves a human being.
Nicholas concludes by identifying the basic requirements for making aid better, such as targeting those sectors where the development value of every dollar of aid is maximized; sectors like health and education where aid spending has a good record. "Some interventions, like school feedings run by the World Food Program, address both areas: For just 10 cents a day, a child gets a lunch that reduces malnutrition and improves attendance." Other critical areas where foreign aid can bring more benefits than costs include "nurturing manufacturing and business development, so that countries can grow on their own." I totally agree with this, and with Nicholas' concluding shot: "…getting foreign aid right is harder than it looks — but also remember that 4,110 people didn't die today from smallpox. Aid can be cause for celebration, not embarrassment." I think that Nicholas' argument offers a common ground on which Bono and the skeptics of foreign aid can stand and work together to make it smart.