IRRC No. 315

Food aid: For or against?

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For or against food aid? When looking at the pictures of famine and malnutrition that abound on the small screen, this question may seem at best incongruous and at worst inadmissible. And yet it should be taken at its face value—provocative and stimulating, intended not to discourage but rather to sharpen our minds, for behind this simplistic question lie some real political stakes, some genuine issues of humanitarian ethics and some fascinating methodological problems. Our task here should perhaps be to single out the “operational” angles and then to reply to the questions “When”, “Why” and “How” food aid should be provided, and finally to the question “How can we do without it?”. As the global balance between supply (food resources) and demand (the needs) breaks down, access to these resources becomes more and more difficult for an increasingly large sector of the population, while at the same time the enormous stocks of the 1980s have melted away. Food aid has therefore become a rare commodity, to be used judiciously and in the most appropriate manner.

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