Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Relativity: A Silly Concept Surely to Be Disproven!

While traveling through Agadir last week I got a call from another PCV. She was downtown, about to eat dinner with a representative from an American NGO she hoped to work with, and invited me to come along. Curious (and hungry), I obliged and met up with them shortly

The rep was from an organization that donates medical supplies to needy and under-funded clinics. They'd spent the past few days visiting sites in and around my friend's area to assess the needs of health centers she'd identified as potential beneficiaries. Now they were traveling north to a larger meeting with ministry officials to report on their observations and recommendations.

I listened to their tales of desperate nurses and frustrated doctors, travel mishaps, and even one truly weird/hilarious story from the rep about medical practices in Uzbekistan.

When we made it back to the hotel I asked my friend how she'd thought it had gone so far. She paused, searching for the right words. "I guess," she sighed, "That I just hadn't considered the relative situation." Compared to conditions in many of the countries the rep had visited, the clinics they'd visited were almost posh. "There are places that still need a lot of help," she went on, "but I guess I just hadn't considered the larger picture."

Had he been unimpressed with the needs expressed or the conditions they'd seen? Not necessarily, she said, "But it affects him a lot less."

This is one of the more sticky aspects of international development and aid work. When funds and supplies are divvied up, there's no real formula (well, I'm sure someone has a formula, but that's really not the point because quantitative is Not The Point) for how they are distributed, but the natural inclination is to give more to those with less. This is good and proper. But what about those who have a little?

Having no supplies or infrastructure is bad, but in many ways a little can be worse. To paraphrase Lyle Lanley, it's like a mule with a spinning wheel – nobody knows how he got it and dang if he knows how to use it. And if, like many in Morocco, they have a little already, they are overlooked by many agencies that would otherwise be ready to offer support. And then the monorail crashes.

This will likely lead into another, larger discussion of Peace Corps proposed expansions plans (hi-O!), but for now lets keep it simple.

Monitoring and evaluation of development can be the single most important aspect – beyond needs assessments and community outreach, implementation, and planning – of any project. If no one is there to make sure things run smoothly, chances are they won't (you can apply
this to anything, obviously, not just development – chocolate chip cookies won't bake themselves). But neglecting situations because the relative need is insufficient is, I think, deeply stupid.

Just because you punched me in the face doesn't mean I'm allowed to punch you, it doesn't equal things out. It just means we both punched someone in the face, which is wrong. And if a clinic needs beds, even though it has a blood pressure monitor, it still needs beds.

So far this has been the major problem I've seen in Morocco - there is just enough that need does not come out sirens blaring, arms all akimbo, but there isn't nearly enough to be effective. Be it medical supplies, project funding, or technical know-how, it's just not quite there. How to fix it is, like most things, beyond my area of expertise, but it does pose some unique dilemmas when the question of aid is raised.

We parted ways the next morning. I wished them luck and happy travels, then got in a taxi headed for home, where we have running water…that's improperly treated.


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home