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British Agency Says Aid Money to Africa Wasted

A British-based international agency says more than 120 million Africans face starvation and other emergency situations because the international aid system is failing to raise and spend money wisely.

Aid money to fight starvation, malnutrition and other crises in Africa rose from $944 million in 1997 to $3 billion in 2003, yet 120 million Africans continue to live on the edge of emergency, according to Care International U.K.

The aid agency says this is because most aid arrives only after a crisis is full-blown, the money targets inappropriate measures, and most of the funding is for short-term food relief.

Care International U.K.'s chief executive, Geoffrey Dennis, tells VOA he has just returned from drought-stricken northeastern Kenya, where he met a herdsman named Joseph who had 70 cattle at this time last year.

"All the cattle have died and he now needs emergency food, water, and shelter. If we had been able to get sufficient funds a year ago, this could have been avoided," he said. "We could have provided fodder for his animals, we could have certainly worked on maintenance of existing boreholes of water, we could have helped him manage and market better the animals that he had got, and we would have also have suggested to him that he should get a mixed herd of camels, goats, and other large stock."

During this year's drought in Horn of Africa, donors paid for food distributions to help the 11 million affected by the drought. But the report says 83 percent of proposed initiatives to protect the livestock that people depend on for their livelihoods and other non-food measures were turned down by donors.

The agency says the funding of longer-term preventative initiatives as a crisis is developing is much more efficient than emergency relief.

For instance, it would have cost $1 per day per child to prevent malnutrition in the West African nation of Niger prior to the country's 2005 famine. But, by July 2006, it cost $80 to save a child's life.

The report urges the international aid system to channel more money into solving the root causes of emergencies, such as climate change, the HIV/AIDS epidemic, the lack of local markets, and poverty in general. Long-term programs could include seed distribution, improved veterinary services, and income generating activities.

But, says Care International's Dennis, the world tends to respond mostly to crisis situations.

"It is quite difficult to get money from institutional donors at the time of a kind of spiraling down toward an emergency," he said. "It is much easier at the moment to get money at the time of an emergency. It is far better, obviously if we can prevent it in a situation like an ongoing drought situation."

Dennis urges governments, institutional donors, aid agencies, the media and others to fund long-term initiatives that go beyond immediate food aid.