The lack of information available to the aid agencies was something that one should keep in mind. No information was available to the relief workers on ecology and the socioeconomic system in that region and this caused many mistakes at how relief activities were coordinated. There were many obstacles that hampered the effectiveness of food distribution as well as undermining the success of the development interventions that were built on the relief efforts.
One major problem listed in the book was in the initial phase the food distribution system used by the agencies involved. The agencies gave the task of distributing the food to town based relief committees. This was only because the agencies bringing in the food did not have enough resources to distribute it themselves, given the extreme problems of reaching remote rural areas. These committees were mainly made up of political figures, usually the wealthy, who claimed to be responsible for people in rural areas.
But when it came to distribution the town dwellers were given preference over the rural inhabitants and many of the wealthy took a share of the food they distributed. It wasn’t found out until 1986 and the organizations attempted to bypass the corruption and attempt more of a direct operation. There is also discussion in the book of the failings of the operations that were only increased by the problematic relationship between international agencies and the local governments. The economically paralyzed situation in this region only added to the problems.
In this state of chaos there was an absence of control over relief operations which led these organizations to develop a system of communication and distribution that was separate from official channels. This gradually caused tension to mount between the government and the relief organizations. Government officials started boycotting agency operations with complicated procedures that delayed relief efforts and at the same time undermined the potential for long term recovery and development.
While there is no doubt that the provision of food aid in eastern Africa was critical in helping to save lives during and after the famine of the 80’s, and provided crucial support to vulnerable communities and refugees over many years, many factors highlight the need to rethink how food aid is being used in the region and this is Kaplan’s main thesis throughout the book. Despite the fact that food has been provided for so many years in this region it is still a fact that Sudan remains the highest in the country.
To explain this Kaplan discusses distribution problems, delays and inadequate targeting as well as the urgency of need being hampered by the media. The book was well written and a must read for everyone. I don’t think that most individuals understood that it was more political than nature that cause the devastation and disasters of the famines that happened in Eastern African countries in the 80’s and Kaplan’s book helps readers to think about this.
Food should not be used as a weapon, nor should it be used as a ways to a means. Readers should also understand that this was not only a problem that happened in the 1980’s but even in today’s world this is happening. Kaplan gave me a perspective I never even knew and the book is a really good eye opener to its readers.