Humanitarian Relief: “What Relief Consists Of”

By Thomas F. Schwartz

Movement of supplies, A.R.A, 1921-1922
Movement of supplies, A.R.A, 1921-1922

Those who study Herbert Hoover realize that the past few and the next several years mark the one hundredth anniversary of the American Relief Administration’s efforts to mitigate suffering in post-World War One Europe.  It also highlights why Hoover is often referred to as “The Great Humanitarian.”  One of Hoover’s more significant writing efforts documented the history of his food relief efforts beginning in 1914 with the Commission for Relief in Belgium and taking the story up to 1963 with UNICEF and CARE.  The four-volume study, An American Epic, covers a wide canvass of relief efforts.  The following excerpt provides a sense of the organizational complexity and magnitude of needs that the many humanitarian efforts required.

“The relief and reconstruction that follow total wars…do not consist of the delivery of gifts for the poor in …Christmas boxes tied with colored ribbons. (They) require the creation of huge organizations administered by men and women who are totally inexperienced in such work and must be trained while in action.

The entire process requires billions of dollars in money, the purchase of scored of millions of tons of supplies from overseas, the management of enormous fleets of cargo ships, and, at times, the taking over and managing of railways, waterways, and coal mines…

The distribution of seed to restore crops in the desolated areas is a prime necessity.  Reconstruction requires great supplies of tools, machinery, and railway and construction equipment.

All of this requires great organization of equipment and medicines to stop the spread of pestilence…

And this work requires hundreds of thousands of self-sacrificing people in every nation to save their countrymen…

Perhaps the reader will have a better understanding of these tasks if I relate that during the period the United States was in the First World War…we provided the necessary margins of food, medicine and clothing to ten nations of about 157,000,000 people.

After the Armistice, we had to organize 32 nations with 400,000,000 people, of whom about 220,000,000 were in acute famine.

And after the Second World War…we had need to organize 50 nations of over 1,500,000,000 people, of whom 800,000,000 without overseas supplies, would have had less food than the prisoners in Buchenwald.”

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