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Your Turn: How Are Poor Countries Portrayed By Aid Groups And The Media?

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A boy carries a sack of grain from a dugout canoe to shore in the village of Ambohitsara in eastern Madagascar, characterized as a low-income country by the World Bank.
Samantha Reinders for NPR

A boy carries a sack of grain from a dugout canoe to shore in the village of Ambohitsara in eastern Madagascar, characterized as a low-income country by the World Bank.

It's an idea that is now spreading around on Twitter in the global development community.

Maybe the reason President Donald Trump called El Salvador, Haiti and nations in Africa "shithole countries" is because of the way the media and aid groups portray poor countries.

The idea was brought up by Owen Barder, the vice president of the Center for Global Development, a think tank on international issues like aid and poverty, in a Tweet he posted on Friday:

Aid workers, NGOs and aid agencies: if you paint developing countries as potential sources of terrorism, disease and unwanted migration to justify your budgets, don't be surprised if politicians join you in denigrating those countries.

That sentiment was echoed by Dina Pomerantz, a prominent development economist at the University of Zurich. "When well-meaning people describe poverty as a hellhole, we shouldn't be surprised that people end up thinking of poor places as 'shitholes,' " she tweeted.

One NGO lauded the conversation for illustrating the incentives that might push a global aid agency to show human suffering. If a group paints developing countries in a positive light, that might make it seem that poverty isn't so bad, making it harder to solicit contributions from donors or governments. But if the group paints the country as poor and hopeless, there's a risk of perpetuating negative stereotypes.

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We'd like to hear your thoughts on the issue. What do you think of the way poor countries are portrayed by aid groups and the media?

Share your thoughts in the tool below. We'll offer a roundup of your views in the Goats and Soda blog on Tuesday, January 16.

Editor's note: NPR has decided in this case to spell out the vulgar word that the president reportedly used because it meets our standard for use of offensive language. It is "absolutely integral to the meaning and spirit of the story being told."

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