With all the breaking news flashed on TV during these days of Donald Trump, it is hard to focus on events taking place among 6 billion people in the Third World from Africa to Asia to Latin America.
It seems the newspaper and TV editors and producers are putting two, three or four Trumpian articles on the front page or story lineup, leaving the space scraps for cute stories about elephants, terrible sagas about Thai boys lost in a deep cave or the burning of Greek towns.
Yet the population of countries from South Africa to Pakistan to Nicaragua continues to explode while the arable land remains finite — or, in some cases, is shrinking. As human fertility remains robust, Africa will grow from 1 billion today to 4 billion by the end of this century, the United Nations predicts.
If millions are willing to risk drowning at sea today — leaving tens of thousands dead on ships or shore — then imagine what the mass migration will look like when four times as many people live in crowded Africa.
Isn’t that the reason that thousands risk their lives crammed into Libyan smuggler boats or riding trucks and trains up from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador?
America and Europe are the main targets of the global search for a promised land of opportunity — an escape from chronic hunger, disease and crime. Our response to this desperate, migratory wave is a double blind policy.
We refuse to take responsibility for the poverty, violence and hopelessness pervading the cities, slums and villages of what is now called “the developing world.” This term was seen by economists and NGOs as more politically correct than calling the poor the “Third World” — as if renaming these countries might transform them into diligent students of democracy and capitalism.
Aside from renaming poverty and blaming the victims, we also refuse to accept responsibility to create and fund a new and appropriate approach to the millions clamoring to come here. Those without any hope for improvement in their lives will continue to ride the death boats, the slow trains and the land routes across Eastern Europe.
Some ask why we should be responsible for alleviating the suffering of others, mainly people of color speaking tongues we cannot decipher?
We must take responsibility because, as we crowd closer and closer on the planet we share, we discover that we are part of a planetary family. If people are sick with malaria, ebola or aids, these illnesses cross national boundaries. Like a family, we find that when our relatives or our neighbors or our cities and towns are beset with insecurity, hunger or health problems, it all comes back to bite us.
But governments need to give inter-nation aid agencies the tools to help Third World peoples to develop their own societies.
Education, family planning, agricultural research centers, new breeds of livestock, water purification systems, roads and basic machinery — such as tractors, bulldozers and diggers — can transform societies.
But the struggle here is to prevent corrupt people from seizing the benefits of foreign aid and investment. Over and over I have seen projects from water pipes to high yield coffee plants fail because the local thugs — once the planners went back to the capital cities — simply seized the land and the water.
The late Nobel Peace laureate Norman Borlaug, father of the Green Revolution, told me that his high yielding miracle wheat might never have been a success; he had to threaten Indian officials that unless they built fertilizer plants the miracle wheat he created would fail.
He also told me that what Africa needed above all was roads, to bring fertilizer inland from the ports and to export harvests to world markets.
But there is another factor needed to halt population explosion, uncontrolled migration, poverty and rampant disease. Security is the key.
Costly machinery and sudden income are magnets for the thugs who rule millions of villages and slums. Sometimes it is better to hire the thugs and pay them according to the level of security they can create. In Afghanistan, a NATO base I stayed at had hired a notorious warlord to provide security outside the base perimeter. It worked.
That may be the only solution to places like Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala where lack of security is driving migration.
Ben Barber is a foreign affairs journalist and retired editor of the USAID newsletter. His email is email@example.com.