Not Enough Resources for the People

Or too many people for the local resources to support?

Conventional view, heard on the radio (NPR, approx. 5/94): a political analyst saying that, in Somalia, "the people can't grow enough food to feed themselves." The implication of the statement, put like that, is that more food should be sent there to bring the population up to subsistence level.

Alternative view: There are far too many people in Somalia for the land to support. The population expanded during a few (cyclic) good years, but now, in lean years, is much too large for the local agriculture to support.

The implication, stated this way, is that a better long term strategy might be to reduce population growth and to encourage migration. A policy of sending food aid to such a civil-war-torn region may not even be as good as "giving a man a fish," because the aid is difficult or impossible to deliver in a chaotic environment. A policy of helping people to relocate to areas where they can support themselves might have much more impact–preserve more lives in this and future generations–than short-term aid.

Similar logic applies to large populations that live in flood-prone regions. Even the US Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has commented, in public and often, that there is no way for the government to support in the long term the Midwestern US populations that move into flood plains. Since World War II, the population in the flood plains of many Midwestern rivers has exploded. The availability of federal flood insurance and disaster relief services and funds encourages people to take otherwise uneconomic risks in these areas. Several agencies are actively encouraging people not to move back into some areas. (I do not have a quote on this topic. I have heard government spokespersons say precisely this at least twice in the last 6-7 years.)

All contents copyright (C) 1995,1996 Richard Landau. All rights reserved.

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