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To ease world hunger: private giving is coming through

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Their involvement also ensures that development strategies and projects reflect popular aspirations and enjoy broad ownership.

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A recent congressional report credits private agencies with having ''contributed mightily to putting a human face on US foreign aid throughout the world.'' The US Congress and parliaments of various countries now direct a specified share of government aid funds to be channeled through private agencies.

Likewise the efforts of voluntary agencies at educating the general public, particularly in the industrialized countries, are now seen as an essential means of expanding public awareness of the root cases of hunger and of rekindling flagging support for relief and development efforts by governments. Their advocacy activities, designed to influence public policies to be more responsive to the needs of the poor, are also a necessary if still controversial part of their work.

Based on their experience in Ethiopia and elsewhere, nongovernment agencies, and the governments with which they interact, are pondering ways to expand their efforts. Beyond the obvious need to mobilize more private resources, a tempting approach is simply for governments to provide, and agencies to accept, more government resources. This approach risks undermining the private and voluntary nature of such agencies, some of which are already more governmental than private in their funding sources.

Surprisingly, the US has yet to find adequate ways and means, as have many European governments, of facilitating people-to-people work as being valuable in its own right.

Instead, the US tends to treat private agencies as means to a particular end, such as advancing foreign policy or promoting an economic ideology.

As private agencies take their rightful place among the major actors addressing the world hunger challenge, many are adopting a more policy-oriented approach to their work. Private agencies are coming more and more to affirm that , however exemplary their own work, governments play indispensable roles, direct and indirect, in making hunger, or freedom from it, a reality for their own people.

This fall private agencies in the US have launched a professional organization called INTERACTION. Through its efforts they hope to augment their capacity for dealing with the political complexities of humanitarian emergencies , their expertise as development agents, their ability to educate their constituencies and to serve as effective voices for the poor, and their effectiveness in dealing with the US government itself.

Meanwhile, the constructive activities of people-to-people organizations in the Ethiopian tragedy and in the longer-term development challenge in Africa and across the third world are cause for rejoicing. If the decade-old commitment to eradicate hunger succeeds, it will need voluntary organizations to assume a more creative and policy-oriented role, in partnership with committed governments, in assisting people now hungry to provide for their own economic and nutritional needs.