Never a truer word was said. That’s why it frustrates me that many charities and NGOs - who are in a prime position to really make a difference - often don’t make good use of the money they do have.
I think the key is to get people helping themselves - getting communities involved in and enthused by new projects - and there are many different ways to do that. Once you get people really interested, and believing that something’s going to work, they’ll usually fund themselves (if that something is available at the right price). Poor people do actually have money, but they’re overly cautious about spending on things other than necessities. The organisations which are most successful at this sort of thing tend to keep a low profile; Helvetas are very, very good at what they do, but most people have probably never heard of them. I was reading an article the other day about a university student - just her, and a gaggle of volunteers - who has managed to promote composting toilets in Haiti. It’s an utter disgrace that all those NGOs, awash with cash after the earthquake, didn’t do this in the first instance. It’s a completely obvious solution given Haiti’s demographics, economy, and environmental situation.
Anyway, I instinctively mistrust organisations that have lots of promotional pictures of white people giving stuff to smiling black kids.
Well … yes and no. Japan’s misfortune really was a statistical outlier; one of those one-in-a-few-centuries events. The Japanese do at least try to take account of the things nature does, where Americans seem to think nature ought to take account of them. Building dense collections of balsawood homes in a country that gets regularly hit by hurricanes is probably not a smart design decision.
“Price” acquires complicated meanings when you’re talking about homes. If the design life of the building is 100 years, then the initial construction cost is a fairly minor issue. You can build a state-of-the-art everything-proof building for perhaps US$20K. Even poor people can afford this, with a little creative financing. This has been done as a proof-of-concept by (for example) the Dept. of Architecture at the University of Kassel, in co-operation with local charities in South America. But it’s awfully hard to get things like this rolled out on a big scale, because the people who control big funding - governments and huge NGOs - often know next-to-nothing about what’s available, what works, and what can be done at low cost. They’re also far more focused on giving stuff away - which obviously has limits - rather than introducing commercially-viable changes that are self-sustaining.
The Philippines is a classic example of a country where problems are mostly self-inflicted. They’re in love with concrete, and they pour it everywhere. They think it’s “modern”. They have absolutely no clue how to use it. So, for example, you’ve got Manila, which is essentially a huge flat concrete carpark, that floods every single monsoon. A city like would be just fine in (say) New Mexico, but If you have a monsoon climate, and you seal the ground watertight, it will flood. It’s inevitable. Similarly, around Tarlac city, people are building houses and farms on a floodplain … which, erm, get flooded. All the time. So why attempt to do that? If you know a place is permanently waterlogged, use it for industries that can make use of waterlogging. There are dozens of food plants that would grow well there. Carabao and pigs love wallowing. Make some ponds; farm fish. The economic opportunities are endless, but people ignore them and try to do something completely inappropriate instead.
Hard to tell. An interesting article here which pretty much sums up my thoughts on the subject:
acrowinghen.com/2011/06/10/thoug … onsorship/
Basically, I take a rather dim view of educating the natives. In general, this takes the form of herding kids into a concrete box and making them rote-memorize a bunch of irrelevant facts. It has the superficial form of education, but it’s missed the basic point - which is to provide a child with useful knowledge and prepare him/her for the reality of adulthood. IMO it would be better to do it by way of apprenticeships: kids in poor countries are invariably used as cheap labour, so if they could be co-opted into organisations which teach them a whole bunch of practical skills (and associated academic knowledge, where appropriate) they’d have a far better chance of making a good life for themselves. For example, farming is big in the boondocks, so why not teach them how to farm properly? Along the way, you’d end up explaining some maths, science, foreign languages, communication skills, management skills, etc … not to mention a few really important things, like respect for nature and man’s place within it.