As images of starvation in Ethiopia crowd their way into our consciousness on evening news broadcasts, many Americans are confronted with the worst African famine of the century. Also, they have become aware that American and other private agencies are playing an indispensable role in a situation in which political considerations had delayed Ethiopian and United States government responses.
It comes as no surprise that people-to-people organizations are working energetically and effectively in Ethiopia. Experts warn that up to 1 million people may starve. For just this reason Americans have come to expect their voluntary agencies to be involved in situations of acute human need - whether in Cambodia, Central America, or here at home.
As we observe the 10th anniversary of the 1974 World Food Conference this week, it is timely to ask how significant has been the contribution of people-to-people agencies toward the conference objective that within a decade no child would go to bed hungry, no family fear for its next day's bread.
More than 170 private and voluntary US agencies - groups like CARE and Africare, Volunteers in Technical Assistance and Technoserve, Catholic Relief Services, and my own agencies - are currently registered with the US Agency for International Development. Last year they reported private contributions of just over $1 billion. The government provided them with $750 million more in grants, contracts, food assistance, and other forms of support, a portion of the larger US economic assistance program of some $9 billion.
Roughly three-fourths of these private agency resources are directed toward third-world countries. While the United States now ranks a distressing 16th of 17 developed nations in its economic assistance as a proportion of its gross national product, the US is tied for eighth place when it comes to citizen contributions to the private agencies of their choice.