by DAVID AXE
Ten years ago, Catholic East Timor voted to break away from Muslim Indonesia. Subsequent fighting killed hundreds and flattened the tiny country’s infrastructure. The U.N., plus Australian and New Zealand peacekeepers, stepped in to provide security and funnel aid to East Timor’s 1 million people. But just 10 percent of the $8 billion provided by foreign donors has been spent at the local level. The rest has been wasted on “foreign security forces, consultants and administration, among other things,” according to a new Associated Press investigation.
The result is that “roads are in disrepair, there is little access to clean water or health services, and the capital is littered with abandoned, burned-out buildings where the homeless squat.”
East Timor was supposed to be a model example of from-scratch U.N. nation-building. Instead, the country has turned into a permanent welfare case, much like Chad and other Central African countries. U.N. proponents can point to much-reduced levels of violence in East Timor, but all other indicators point the wrong way. Unemployment is at 50 percent, families are still having too many babies, and the country’s theoretically-rich mineral reserves are not bringing in much revenue.
That’s the Catch-22 of foreign aid. In the short term, it saves lives. In the long term, it endangers them by creating countries wholly dependent on fickle aid donations. Because they never develop robust infrastructure, financial systems and human capital, aid-dependent countries are actually more prone to the very sort of calamities that caused them to become aid-dependent in the first place. But allowing countries to learn from, and evolve out of, their initial calamities is politically unpalatable to the developed world. We can’t stand the sight of starving babies and burning villages. And who can blame us?
(Photo: David Axe)