[Kajian Post] Poverty Alleviation: Are All Aid Programs Effective?

Oleh : Jalu Dibyo Sanwasi | Staff Divisi Kajian Kanopi 2012 | Ilmu Ekonomi 2011

Over the past 42 years, over $568 billion has flowed into Africa. In total, the West has spent over $2.3 trillion on aid in an attempt to mitigate poverty. Despite such grand efforts, however, the west has yet succeeded on reaching what some call, simple milestones. Children in Africa are stillcontracting malaria even though preventive tools only cost a mere 12 cents. Furthermore,five million newborns still has to die even though mothers only has to spend $3 on medications in order to prevent their babies from dying. After putting these disappointments into perspectives, can one truly say that all foreign aid programs are effective?

One common debatable example of the effectiveness of aids can be attributed to the attempt atgiving away free mosquito nets. Foreign aid groups provide mosquito nets in order to protect the poor from the daunting bites of malaria-carrying mosquitos. The idea behind the nets is toprovide the poor with a healthier life, whereby they will be able to not only spend less of their limited income on medication but also earn more money by having to spend fewer days out of work.This idea sounds perfect; by allowing the poor to possess more money in their pockets, the poor can sooner or later be alleviated from poverty.

In reality, however, one disturbing question usually arise, “will the poor use the free mosquito nets?” This is where the debate comes in. Economists like William Easterly tend to view subsidized mosquito nets in a cynical manner. He sees that people act based on incentives and free nets do not really motivate people to use them. Any one can get a hold of free mosquito nets, including those who are skeptical or even unaware of the benefits of such tools. Considering the limited access to both basic information and education in poverty-afflicted areas, it is unsurprising that many who obtains subsidized mosquito nets are those who fit such criteria.

Many of those who obtain free mosquito nets do not use it for its intended purposes. The more imaginative use it as a tool for fishing, or what many usually call fishing nets, while the many do not even bother to use them. Despite such absurdity, one cannot really blame them. After all, what level of understanding do you expect an elementary school drop out to have? It is even doubtful that they have basic knowledge in biology that allows them to comprehend the concept of malaria-carrying mosquitos spreading the disease.

Another questionable form of foreign aid highlighted by aid critiquesis the effort to reduce population growth by increasing access to contraceptive tools.Condoms have been advocated to help reduce unwanted population growth that leads to the perseverance of poverty. But is it true that families will give birth to fewer children in response to the availability of cheap, or even free, condoms?

Lant Pritchett, a Harvard Kennedy School professor, has analyzed the relation of births with the use of contraception. One variable that showed significance influenced is surprisingly not contraception, but instead the woman’s desire to have a child. He found that 90% of differences across countries in fertility rate is explained by the woman’s desired fertility. In other words, the desire of the woman to have a large amount of baby will maintain the high fertility rate of a particular area despite an increase in the availability of contraception. Lant Pritchett concluded his research with these words “The conclusion that follows from the evidence and analysis resented is that because fertility is principally determined by child desires, contraceptive access (or cost) or family planning effort more generally are not a dominant, or typically even a major, factor in 8 determining fertility differences.”

Foreign aids are of no doubt intended to help less fortunate nations eradicate themselves from poverty.Several researches have, however, criticized the affectivity of some programs where billions, or trillions, of dollars have been invested. Programs that are aim to decrease malaria and fertility rate, for instance, have had results fallen below expectations. These shortcomings should be an indicator for the west to improve their planning before pursuing on a particular program. By doing so, the money allocated for poverty alleviation can have a more compelling impact on eradicating poverty.

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