Tuesday 23 January 2018

Let's make sure we never forget those in need


THIS YEAR Ireland, is giving €669 million in Overseas Development Aid. Hopefully, the upcoming budget will not see the Government renege on its word by slashing vital Development funds. Recently, a commentator took to radio and television arguing that we spend too much on overseas aid. On the one hand, he argues that money for emergency aid is necessary, on the other, that the development budget needs to be cut. Drastically. The inter-relatedness of the two issues exposes a glaring inconsistency in his argument. Countries with a sound, adequate infrastructure are always able to manage natural disasters better than those lacking even the most basic services.

I work in the press office of Concern Worldwide. Therefore, I'm not an objective bystander. But from my work with Concern I've seen how Aid not just transforms the lives of our planet's poorest of the poor, but frequently saves them. One billion people in our world are starving. Today, one in seven of us, won't have enough to eat. 2.5bn of us exist on less than two dollars a day. Meanwhile in Ireland, every household wastes €2,000 worth of food every year.

Horrific as they are, those images of starving, bloated children with flies colonising their faces, can leave people a bit fatigued. It's easy to relax into clichés of the suffering of the destitute of the world. Our world. Still, we cannot, should not, succumb. Not even because of altruism. The hardest head and heart will see that our being bored or apathetic will come back to haunt us as the starving, unlucky seventh of our population migrates in search of food and more importantly, and politically, water.

Part of my job at Concern is to liaise with the media on the work we do: the difference our people make in 25 countries across the globe. But what of the difference the experience overseas makes to our workers' lives?

Take Naoise. Not their real name. Naoise was recently on a working visit to one of the Concern programmes in Africa. While there became ill. Terribly ill ending up in a hospital in a remote part of the country. "It was really terrible, the worst that I could possibly imagine. And because I was working for Concern I was given ' VIP' treatment," Naoise says. "They didn't have the proper equipment to secure the catheter, so they had to wrap it around a rubber glove to hold it in place. "One evening, I noticed a cat in the ward. I thought good - no rats. Until I looked again and realised it was, in fact, a gigantic rat patrolling the ward."

But the rats are the least of it. What must it be like for the millions of us who give birth, are born, are seriously ill or die in these circumstances? For mothers watching their sick or dying children? Those people are not ' them'. They're 'us'. So in terms of aid, then, the responsibility is to ourselves.

Ireland is a light in the developing world. Let's make sure that despite the difficulties here, that light never goes out. The heart that our new President spoke about so eloquently will always be a giving one.

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