Rich Western nations must find answers to the third world's triple threat of hunger, ill health, and poor education -- or accept the political consequences. That was the message from international aid experts speaking to the Rotary International convention here in Chicago (June 1-5). They stressed that ordinary citizens must find the answers, rather than leaving "the government" to cope with the problem.
"In the absence of the people's initiative," said John E. Reinhardt, President Carter's representative to the convention, "governments can do little or nothing for us."
Career diplomat Reinhardt, who is director of the US International Communication Agency and a former US Ambassador to Nigeria, spoke to the 18,000 Rotarians here to celebrate Rotary's 75th anniversary -- and through them to 860 ,000 Rotary members in 18,600 Rotary clubs in 154 countries.
Dr. Reinhardt said that the President set up the International Communication Agency two years ago to build better understanding between nations -- and that this is precisely what Rotary has been doing successfully for three-quarters of a century. He told Rotarians that the key to dealing with world challenges lies with "the private, voluntary efforts carried out by you and others like you -- spontaneous, people-to-people efforts operating outside the purview of governments."
The ambassador said that nations are increasingly interdependent, increasing the need for each of us to understand the aspirations of other countries and peoples. He praised the wide range of Rotary International's educational opportunities for students and exchange programs for businessmen.
Dr. Reinhardt added that Rotary projects such as direct aid to refugees in Southeast Asia show the tremendous power of an idea -- the idea of "service above self," which prompted young lawyer Paul Harris to found the original Rotary club in Chicago in 1905.
The latest fruit from that seed idea is Rotary's year-old 3-H (health, hunger , and humanity) program, with $100 million earmarked for humanitarian projects over the next five years. The new program does not replace traditional projects by local Rotary groups -- such as setting up a home for handicapped children in New Brunswick, Canada, or building 1,500 low-cost homes in Maracaibo, Venezuela.
Current 3-H aid projects include mass immunization programs in India and the Philippines and specialists for refugee camps in Hong Kong and Thailand.
Another speaker, John Mellor, the director of the International Food Policy Research Institute in Washington, D.C., put the 3-H's $100 million effort in sobering perspective.
Dr. Mellor brought the message that $100 billionm is needed just to meet basic food needs over the next 10 years in the poorest countries. He warned that there will have to be "large transfers of support from the concentration of wealthy people in the developed countries to the concentration of very poor people in the developing countries."
Massive food aid is essential, he explained, because alleviating hunger is a first step toward building stable national governments and reliable international relations.