Opinion: Dying of hunger

POSTED: 08/7/11 8:32 PM

People are dying of hunger in the horn of Africa and the Dutch aid organizations have started an action to collect funds. Yesterday the action had yielded €18.5 million ($26.2 million); the action ends tomorrow.

So is $26 million good or bad? Depends how you look at it. The market research bureau motivation polled one thousand people in theNetherlandsabout giving money for this cause. And what did they find? A majority of the Dutch (54 percent) will not give a penny for those dying people in Africa.

There are two reasons given for this position. The first one is as old as the aid organizations themselves: people doubt that their money will indeed be used for the purpose for which it is collected. That’s the result of aid-scams and of reports about liberal spending by the organizations that collect money for good causes.

A fine example is a report by the Ikon about what happened with aid funds in Asia seven years ago. The report showed a village elder who had managed to get funding for the construction of one house (his own) which was crammed with supplies given to him for distribution among his constituents by the Red Cross. Those constituents continued to live in tents, while the village elder went around on Armani-loafers.

The percentage of collected funds organizations use to keep themselves afloat has also been the target of much criticism in the past.

The second reason why Dutch say they won’t give money for their hungry brethren in Africa is that they are not able to afford it.

That is about the most pathetic excuse for letting people elsewhere in the world die of hunger we’ve heard so far. We remember the first televised fundraiser in the Netherlands, back in 1962. The 23-hour live marathon Open het Dorp (Open the village) broadcast yielded 12 million guilders for the construction of a village for handicapped people.

Twelve million guilders equals about €5.4 million, or $7.7 million. But that money was raised in when the Netherlands had 11.9 million inhabitants and TV was still in its infancy; today there are 17 million people living in the country.

Based on these figures, the donation per head in 1962 was $0.64,7. This week, 46 percent of the Dutch put together a fund that equals $1.52,9 per head, almost 2.4 times as much. Without taking inflation effects into account, it seems that we have less people who are ready to give, but that the people who do give are more generous than those who supported the Open het Dorp action.

Okay, we did not take inflation correction into account. But what we remember most from that historic event in 1962 that the presenters encouraged people to collect any money they could miss: nickels and dimes if need be, stuffed in empty matchboxes. The enthusiasm form that action has never been equaled.

These days, 54 percent of the population turns away from fellow human beings in need, mainly because they tell themselves that they are unable to afford any kind of generosity, before heading towards the supermarket for their weekly shopping. Sad.

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