IN an era when national governments and development organizations are often faulted for furthering their own private agendas at the expense of programs based on a clear understanding of local needs, it is useful to be reminded that efforts toward locally based programs continue to take place. One significant example now under way involves private voluntary relief assistance for Africa. A number of Catholic, Protestant, and Jewish relief agencies have banded together to reexamine current assistance practices and plan steps for future collaboration and cooperation regarding long-term development. The new coalition, called the Ecumenical Working Group on Africa, was started in May 1985. As noted last week by Lawrence A. Pezzullo, executive director of Catholic Relief Services, a key unit in the coalition and one of the larger donors of relief aid for Africa, ``The underlying assumption shared by all involved in the Ecumenical Working Group is that development in Africa is more than a matter of resources. . . . Really effective development will only occur if it truly reflects African reality and African aspirations.''
Mr. Pezzullo, a former US ambassador to Nicaragua and Uruguay, makes a compelling case for ``micro'' aid projects. These are smaller, long-range projects aimed at developing the local African political and social infrastructure, rather than the ``macro'' or grandiose relief projects -- dams and so on -- often favored by the West. Development, as he rightly notes, ``is not about charts and graphs and long economic treatises.'' Rather, development is about ``helping the poor to earn their own living . . . the realization of very basic human hopes.''
This new emphasis merits support.