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The Potential Evil in Humanitarian Food Relief Programs

The Potential Evil in Humanitarian Food Relief Programs

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Excerpt from The Potential Evil in Humanitarian Food Relief Programs: August 1975

The imbalance between population and food grows increasingly more severe throughout the world. One frequently hears about the ethical obligation of food-surplus countries to send food relief to countries where food production does not meet food needs. The nations of plenty presumably are obliged to do "good", that is, ship food. This article argues that, rather than being "good", sending food relief may be "evil" and therefore unethical. Food relief shipments can alleviate shortages and avert starvation; but, if sustained relief is necessary, the donor cannot in the long run stop sending food without causing more suffering than the relief prevented in the short run.

To appreciate the potential evil in behavior that is usually considered to be humanitarian, we must examine the criteria for judging whether an act is "good" or "evil". The important criterion for this discussion is the impact of the passage of time on the "goodness" of an act. The long-term effects of an act may be quite different from the short-term effects. Therefore, we must adopt a dynamic standard when evaluating an act whose future consequences may be important and different from its immediate effects. A dynamic standard of ethical evaluation takes explicit account of long-term as well as short-term effects. If an act has evil side effects and if In the long run the side effects exceed the benefits in the short run, the act in question cannot be considered "good".

This article explains why the side effects of humanitarian food-relief programs invite the conclusion that such programs are not "good" when viewed from a dynamic perspective.

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