The collection and distribution of unwanted, but still-usable goods is one of the many ways in which the populations of the North demonstrate solidarity with those of the South. This discreet flow of aid has an immediate impact and is appreciated by the beneficiaries. However, it is not held in great esteem, is badly quantified and has become increasingly complex
The recent implementation of a European directive threatens the collection of unused medicine in the North for distribution in the South. Indeed, a significant portion of this unused medicine is apparently close to expiry.
Clearly, this regulation is intended to protect poor people from intoxication by products that are no longer guaranteed and to prevent Africa from becoming Europe’s rubbish dump. This is certainly commendable, and the risks must not be ignored. However, this directive also means that people, who cannot even afford to buy generic medicine, are deprived of a generous supply source. At best, they will now have to resort to counterfeit medicines which are even more dangerous than near-to-expiry ones. At worst, this could spell certain death for these people since they cannot be treated. This directive is also very discouraging for the volunteers in the North who invest time and energy in collecting these items. It actually destroys the very purpose of the networks which are in themselves a concrete symbol of the oft-quoted North-South solidarity.
This is not simply an anecdote. Solidarity cannot be decreed. It is born of empathy, of the ability to reach out to others, to identify with them, to share in their scarcity and suffering, while assessing diverse contexts and various possible responses. Solidarity belongs to people who evolve in particular environments and settings. It is therefore inevitably sometimes a bit disorganised, more concerned with its own manifestation and occasional results than with rigorous and concerted action.
Administrative procedures and wide-ranging regulations do indeed improve safety, foster spontaneous action and serve to help organise a largely informal movement. However, they would be even more effective if instead of encouraging suspicion and prohibiting, they sought to raise awareness of all the aspects of genuine solidarity and to empower all the players. As far as both collectors and beneficiaries are concerned, simple methods need to be implemented to assess the goods that are collected and distributed. This is already the case in some countries, like Germany, for specific goods, for example computers, which must be checked to ensure that they will function in their final destinations.
At first sight, this kind of measure, which is seen more as an encouragement than a sanction, does appear more difficult to implement than a simple ban. However, at a time when the whole world is affected by a major unfolding crisis, measures of this kind would give a clear signal. They would signify that though regulations provide security and though security must not be overlooked, solidarity must be encouraged and developed first and foremost. Protocols between institutions must not replace the bonds between men, neither must we lose consciousness of our shared responsibility.
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