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Jan 14, 2005 1:00 am

The Biggest Relief Operation in History?

Paul Reynolds, for BBC News (1-11-05):

It does not detract from the relief operation in Asia to question the title almost routinely given to it as the "world's largest relief operation ever". The huge American undertakings that fed millions of people during and after the World War I rescued not sections of populations but whole peoples. Today they have been largely forgotten.

Yet 10 million people relied on food shipped in during the German occupation of Belgium and Northern France between 1914 and 1918. Tens of millions more were kept alive right across continental Europe after the war. These operations saw nearly 11m metric tons of supplies delivered at a cost of nearly $3bn -- and that is the dollar amount from the time. The US government ended up paying for most of it, though Britain and others did contribute.

In 1921 there was another massive operation to help a further 10 million starving in the Soviet Union. Even so, an estimated one million people died in that famine.
The common factor in all these operations was a man who later became an American president reviled for not doing enough during the great depression - Herbert Hoover.
Between 1914 and 1922, he certainly did something. He got money from governments and charity, sailed his own fleet which flew his flags, took over railways, set up a telegraph network, issued his own passports, made treaties with governments, negotiated safe passages through war zones on land and sea and saved countless lives.
It was not a charity he ran. It was an industry. It was almost a state.

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