Telegraph | Opinion | American stinginess is saving lives
But the waters recede and the familiar contours of the political landscape re-emerge – in this case, the need to fit everything to the Great Universal Theory of the age, that whatever happens, the real issue is the rottenness of America. Jan Egeland, the Norwegian bureaucrat who’s the big humanitarian honcho at the UN, got the ball rolling with some remarks about the “stinginess” of certain wealthy nations. And Clare Short piled in, and then Polly Toynbee threw in her three-ha’porth, reminding us that ” ‘Charity begins at home’ is the mean-minded dictum of the Right”. But even Telegraph readers subscribe to the Great Universal Theory. On our Letters Page, Robert Eddison dismissed the “paltry $15 million from Washington” as “worse than stingy. The offer – since shamefacedly upped to $35 million – equates to what? Three oil tycoons’ combined annual salary?”
Mr Eddison concluded with a stirring plea to the wicked Americans to mend their ways: “If Washington is to lay any claim to the moral, as distinct from the military, high ground, let it emulate Ireland and Norway’s prompt and proportionate attempts to plug South-East Asia’s gaping gap of need and help avert a further 80,000 deaths from infection and untreated wounds.”
If America were to emulate Ireland and Norway, there’d be a lot more dead Indonesians and Sri Lankans. Mr Eddison may not have noticed, but the actual relief effort going on right now is being done by the Yanks: it’s the USAF and a couple of diverted naval groups shuttling in food and medicine, with solid help from the Aussies, Singapore and a couple of others. The Irish can’t fly in relief supplies, because they don’t have any C-130s. All they can do is wait for the UN to swing by and pick up their cheque.
The Americans send the UN the occasional postal order, too. In fact, 40 per cent of Egeland’s budget comes from Washington, which suggests the Europeans aren’t being quite as “proportionate” as Mr Eddison thinks. But, when disaster strikes, what matters is not whether your cheque is “prompt”, but whether you are. For all the money lavished on them, the UN is hard to rouse to action. Egeland’s full-time round-the-clock 24/7 Big Humanitarians are conspicuous by their all but total absence on the ground. In fact, they’re doing exactly what our reader accused Washington of doing – Colin Powell, wrote Mr Eddison, “is like a surgeon saying he must do a bandage count before he will be in a position to staunch the blood flow of a haemorrhaging patient”. That’s the sclerotic UN bureaucracy. They’ve flown in (or nearby, or overhead) a couple of experts to assess the situation and they’ve issued press releases boasting about the assessments. In Sri Lanka, Egeland’s staff informs us, “UNFPA is carrying out reproductive health assessments”.
Which, translated out of UN-speak, means the Sri Lankans can go screw themselves.