Foreign Aid FAQs – #10 “Aid money is spent on the wrong things”

Foreign Aid FAQs – #10 “Aid money is spent on the wrong things”

There is a widespread belief that overseas aid money is either handed over to corrupt dictators and never reaches the people it is supposed to help, or is wasted on extraordinarily expensive projects which have little or no benefit for people living in poverty. These are perfectly understandable concerns – all public spending should be scrutinised and accountable to ensure that taxpayers are getting the best possible value for money. But do these accusations hold up?

During an episode of Question Time this January, the UKIP donor Arron banks declared that ‘We have to start working out our priorities. Is it to spend £12 billion [in foreign aid] that is misappropriated by foreign corrupt governments or spend the money on the NHS for people in this country?’[1] Firstly, the idea that we should cut foreign aid in order to pay for public services is tackled in this article. Secondly, the claim that the entirety of the UK’s aid budget ends up in the pockets of foreign governments is simply untrue.

The first thing to understand is how the foreign aid budget is actually spent. The vast majority of the aid budget is not given to foreign governments. In fact, the Department for International Development has committed to ending traditional ‘budget support’ – money given directly to developing country governments.[2] The proportion of the aid budget spent this way has been steadily declining, and in 2014 accounted for just 0.45% of the total aid spend.[3]

Around 40% of the aid budget goes to multilateral organisations – bodies such as UNICEF which bring together various governments, individuals, corporations, and foundations to act collectively.[4] This has both pros and cons. Multilateral organisations have economies of scale, world-class specialist expertise and a large reach, and are also widely seen as independent and politically impartial. However, sending money to multilateral organisations can reduce the oversight which the UK government has over exactly how that money is spent.

The other 60% is spent on direct assistance to developing countries. As seen above, only a very small (and falling) proportion of this is simply handed over to foreign governments to do what they like with. The vast majority is used to fund specific projects which the UK government maintains oversight of, and in fact the Department for International Development is one of the most transparent aid agencies in the world.[5] The bulk of this money is channelled through international development charities which work directly with local communities in developing countries, meaning that their governments don’t get a chance to misappropriate the funds.[6]

By all means let’s have a discussion about how to end corruption around the world. For example, a good start would be closing down tax havens which allow corrupt leaders to hide their ill-gotten gains. But lazily repeating the falsehood that aid spending first and foremost goes to corrupt foreign leaders is both dishonest and unhelpful.

The problems with aid

Overseas aid has achieved incredible things (see this article for some examples), but of course it is not perfect. Examples abound of money from the aid budget not being spent on the most impactful projects, to say the least. For instance, the infamous example of £3.8 million being used to fund the Ethiopian ‘Spice Girls’.[8] An increasing amount of aid money is not even leaving the UK, but is being spent on expensive consultants. The Times newspaper claimed that up to £1 billion a year from the foreign aid budget was spent this way, with one consultant reportedly paid £23,000 to write a 2-page policy brief.[9]

Source: http://www.globaljustice.org.uk/resources/poor-are-getting-richer-and-other-dangerous-delusions

Furthermore, too often the primary purpose of aid has not been poverty reduction, but it has instead been used to secure policy concessions (e.g. preferential trade deals, military support, privatisation of public utilities).[10] Of course, if aid is to contribute to a world free of poverty, this needs to end.

The public debate around foreign aid has been reduced to an uncritical ‘for’ camp and an irredeemably negative ‘against’ camp. Against this backdrop, it’s tempting to gloss over the failings of foreign aid when coming to its defence. However, we won’t build public support for aid by pedalling rose-tinted untruths.

It is perfectly possible to be critical of how the aid budget is spent while still supporting it in principle. If millions of pounds from the health budget were found to have been misspent, this would prompt calls for reform rather than for health spending to be scrapped. Those of us who believe that foreign aid is a good use of public money must put forward a positive vision of what the aid budget should be spent on, rather than uncritically defending it in its current state. Global Justice Now have done some excellent work in this area, releasing the report Re-Imagining UK Aid which sets out such a vision.

The foreign aid budget is not perfect, so let’s reform it. It’s time to move the public debate away from straw-man arguments and oversimplifications and towards a more nuanced discussion around the areas in which foreign aid is failing and the ways it can be improved.

[1] www.insuranceage.co.uk/insurance-age/opinion/2480294/blog-arron-banks-question-time-appearance
[2] www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/573889/Bilateral-Development-Review-2016.pdf, p. 49
[3] www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/538878/annual-report-accounts-201516a.pdf, pp. 149, 153
[4] www.theweek.co.uk/63394/how-is-the-12bn-foreign-aid-budget-spent
[5] www.gov.uk/government/news/media-reports-on-uk-aid-projects-setting-the-record-straight
[6] www.theguardian.com/global-development/2013/mar/20/uk-aid-spend-important-works
[7] www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/573889/Bilateral-Development-Review-2016.pdf, p. 25
[8] www.telegraph.co.uk/news/politics/11228152/The-bizarre-recipients-of-British-foreign-aid.html
[9] www.theweek.co.uk/63394/how-is-the-12bn-foreign-aid-budget-spent
[10] Bruce Bueno de Mesquita and Alastair Smith, The Dictator’s Handbook, ch. 7


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Foreign Aid FAQs – #9 “They’re poor because they’re lazy”

Foreign Aid FAQs – #9 “They’re poor because they’re lazy”

A common attitude nowadays is that people are rich because they work hard and deserve to be wealthy, whereas people are poor because they are lazy, feckless and incapable. Does this idea hold up?

Many people living in developing countries actually work far harder than their counterparts in the developed world. For example, Mexico and Costa Rica have the longest average weekly working hours of the OECD countries at 42.9 and 42.6 hours respectively. Compare this with the average working week in the United States of 34.4 hours, and in the UK of 32.3 hours.[1]

People living in poverty aren’t in that position because they’re too lazy to earn a decent wage. They’re in that position because their national economies aren’t very productive. For example, poor soil quality and a lack of mechanisation in agriculture mean that many farmers in developing countries have to spend many hours performing back-breaking work just to produce enough food to feed themselves and their families, let alone produce a surplus to sell.

Many people living in the world’s poorest countries have no option but to send their children out to do manual labour, just to earn enough money to eat. The idea that these parents are so heartless that they would put their own children through this misery just out of their own laziness is not only offensive but downright ludicrous.

We tend to lose sight of the role that luck plays in our lives. The lottery of birth is still an extraordinarily powerful determinant of how someone’s life will turn out.

Those of us living in rich countries such as the UK benefit from centuries of history and economic development which we had absolutely no part in. It is because of this history that we have effective public institutions, democracy, high quality education and healthcare, comparatively high-paying jobs, etc. A person born in a rich country has a far greater chance of having a good standard of living than if that exact same person had been born in a developing country.

The concept of natural economic justice – that people are rich or poor purely as a result of their own individual talent and effort – is both dangerous and demonstrably false. The world is full of examples of lazy, untalented rich people who are wealthy because of who their parents were; and intelligent, talented, hard-working poor people who, because of circumstances beyond their control, haven’t had the opportunity to improve their lot in life.

The successful American investor Warren Buffett put it well when he expressed humility at the extent to which his own personal talent was responsible for his success:

I personally think that society is responsible for a very significant percentage of what I’ve earned. If you stick me down in the middle of Bangladesh or Peru or someplace, you’ll find out how much this talent is going to produce in the wrong kind of soil. I will be struggling thirty years later. I work in a market system that happens to reward what I do very well – disproportionately well. [2]

It’s important to recognise that how our life turns out is not only a result of our individual skill and effort, but are in large part down to luck. Donating to international development charities and supporting foreign aid to help those living in poverty overseas is, in part, recognition that if the lottery of birth had turned out differently, we could so easily have been in their position ourselves.

[1] www.fortune.com/2015/11/11/chart-work-week-oecd/
[2] Quoted in Ha-Joon Chang, 23 Things They Don’t Tell You About Capitalism, p. 30.


The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Development in Action.

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Foreign Aid FAQs – #8 “Why has nothing been achieved?”

Foreign Aid FAQs – #8 “Why has nothing been achieved?”

The fight to eradicate global poverty has been going on for decades. Yet despite all the money that has been donated and all the work that has been done, international development charities are still running adverts showing how horrendous the situation is in some countries around the world and asking for money to help. This is understandably frustrating – What on Earth did they spend all that money on if not to solve this problem? you may think, Either they wasted the money or they’re too incompetent to spend it correctly – either way, they’re not getting any more of my money!

The first thing to say in response to this is that an enormous amount has been achieved in the field of international development. For example, below are some key achievements of UK foreign aid since 2011:[1]

  • 11 million children supported into education.
  • 30 million people prevented from going hungry.
  • 7 million malaria nets distributed.
  • 5 million people given access to clean water and sanitation.
  • 67 million children immunised against preventable diseases.
  • 13 countries supported to have freer and fairer elections.

Yet despite all this progress, the task is far from complete. Poverty has not been eradicated, and billions of people around the world still have a standard of living which is far below what most people in the developed world experience.

So why has this issue not been solved yet? Part of the reason is the sheer scale of the problem. More than 60% of the world’s population live on less than $7.40 a day – the amount which it has been calculated is required to achieve normal human life expectancy of just over 70 years.[2] That’s about 4.2 billion people. Each year, rich countries spend around $125 billion on foreign aid, which is an awful lot of money. But divide this by 4.2 billion people and it works out at just $30 each per year, or $0.08 a day. So while the generosity of people in the developed world has meant that a large amount of money is devoted to tackling global poverty each year, unfortunately it is still not enough given the scale of the problem.

Another reason is that global poverty is an ongoing problem. For instance, vaccinating children against preventable diseases is not a one-time fix, but something that needs to be done again and again for each new generation. Lots of work has been done to get developing countries to a stage where they are self-sufficient, for example South Korea was previously an aid recipient but is now not only self-sufficient but is itself an aid donor. However, until this is achieved for every country, some will still require ongoing assistance.

Climate change is undoing some of the good work which has been done over the years, and is creating additional work which needs to be done. Developing countries have been hit hardest by climate change, having to cope with more frequent extreme weather events and droughts, and falling crop yields. They are having to spend a lot of money just adapting to climate change, never mind actually improving their situation. For example, climate change adaptation costs Sub-Saharan African countries a total of $10.6 billion a year.[3]

Progress in eradicating global poverty has not been as rapid as we may have liked because of growing global inequality. The gap between rich and poor has been steadily growing to the point where now 8 billionaires have the same amount of wealth as the poorest half of the world’s population.[4] This extreme level of inequality is a major barrier to developing countries reaching a point where they are self-sufficient.

It’s important to be honest about the limitations of aid. The sheer scale of global poverty means that charity alone cannot solve the problem. Nor can it, when what is given to developing countries with one hand in the form of foreign aid is taken with the other through debt repayments, repatriation of corporate profits, tax avoidance, unjust trade rules, land grabs, etc. (see this article for more information).

Aid and charity have an important part to play in the eradication of poverty, but they must be accompanied by the creation of a global policy environment which supports developing countries and gives them a fair chance at catching up with their rich counterparts, rather than the current policy environment which is rigged in favour of the rich and has allowed an ever greater proportion of global wealth to be concentrated in the hands of a few. Only when this is achieved will we be able to eradicate global poverty for good.

[1] www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/538878/annual-report-accounts-201516a.pdf
[2] www.theguardian.com/global-development-professionals-network/2015/nov/01/global-poverty-is-worse-than-you-think-could-you-live-on-190-a-day
[3] www.healthpovertyaction.org/wp-content/uploads/downloads/2014/08/Honest-Accounts-BRIEFING-webFINAL.pdf
[4] www.theguardian.com/global-development/2017/jan/16/worlds-eight-richest-people-have-same-wealth-as-poorest-50


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Foreign Aid FAQs – #7 “I’d rather give them the money myself”

Foreign Aid FAQs – #7 “I’d rather give them the money myself”

Widespread concerns about dodgy and unscrupulous overseas aid charities not sending donations where they’re supposed to have led some people to instead express a wish to donate money, clothes, food, etc. to those in need directly, thereby bypassing the charity ‘middle-men’.

These concerns have been fuelled by negative coverage of international development charities in the press, which has claimed that these charities spend a lot of money on wages and so hardly any of the money actually gets to where it’s supposed to. However, these claims are based on a fundamental misunderstanding of what overseas aid charities actually do. In general, these charities do not operate as cash transfer schemes. Read our previous article on this topic to find out about how overseas aid charities actually spend the donations they receive.

Rather than increasing the impact of your donation, giving money directly to those living in poverty overseas can actually achieve less than if you had donated to a charity. If you’re planning on travelling to a developing country with the goal of donating directly to those in need, the costs involved (flights, travel insurance, vaccinations, food, accommodation, security, etc.) will eat up a significant amount of your donation.

But let’s say that you were planning on travelling to a developing country anyway, or that you’re transferring money to someone you know in the country who can then distribute it for you. That will maximise your impact, right? Well, actually this still won’t achieve as much as if you had donated to a charity. Donating directly to a person or family living in poverty will certainly help to alleviate their situation in the short-term, but it will have limited long-term impact.

International development charities conduct research to ensure that donations are spent in areas where they will have maximum impact. Then, rather than giving money to people directly, they invest donations in projects which will have a long-term impact in the community. For example, donating food to someone living in an area suffering from poor harvests will have less of an impact than investing in an irrigation project which allows the local community to be self-sufficient and reduces the chances of poor harvests occurring in the future. Unless you are donating a large enough amount of money to entirely fund such a project, it makes sense to let charities combine individual donations and create a greater and longer-lasting impact than these donations could have achieved alone.

Donating directly, rather than through established charities, can cause many issues. For example, crowdfunding has recently emerged as an alternative way of donating to worthy causes. Organised by well-meaning individuals, crowdfunding appeals are meant to cut out the much-maligned ‘administration’ costs of official charities, meaning that all of the money goes where it is intended. However, there are numerous examples of these appeals encountering unforeseen problems – from struggling to track down the intended recipients, to encountering controversy as to where to spend the money raised in excess of what was required, to being taken to court for an unexpected bill.

Established charities have systems of governance and accountability in place which make sure that donors’ money is spent transparently and effectively. The proportion of donations spent on administration is not wasteful, as often claimed, but ensures that problems like those mentioned above are avoided or effectively resolved.

Non-financial donations

What about donating things other than money? Whenever a natural disaster hits, the first instinct of many kind-hearted people is to donate food, clothing, blankets and other goods to be sent to those affected. However, the costs of sorting, processing and transporting these donations can very often exceed the total value of the donations themselves.

Instead, humanitarian aid charities use monetary donations to buy supplies, wherever possible, in the affected country or region. Not only does this improve value for money, but also helps to support the local economy. Additionally, they do not wait until disaster strikes to buy these supplies, but keep strategically-placed warehouses around the world pre-stocked so that they are ready to respond as soon as an emergency arises.

If you’d like to donate something other than money, you could donate items to a charity shop, or donate your time to volunteer for a charity or run a fundraising event. In doing this, you will generate money which can be quickly and easily sent where it is needed most.

Donating directly to people living in poverty overseas may mean that your entire donation goes to your intended recipient. However, at the end of the day it will also mean that your donation will not have as great an impact as if you had entrusted it to an international development charity. And surely it is the impact which matters?


The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Development in Action.

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Foreign Aid FAQs – #6 “Their own government should help them”

Foreign Aid FAQs – #6 “Their own government should help them”

It is without a doubt true that governments should help their own people. However, this phrase is often used to mean that the welfare of people living overseas is a problem for their own government to deal with and no-one else.

The problem with this idea is that the concept of each government having absolute responsibility for taking care of their citizens only really works if each state is equally capable of doing this. In reality, because of accidents of geography and the course of history, some states have more capacity to look after their citizens than others.

For example, in 2009 the UK was able to collect the equivalent of $13,806 in tax per person. Compare this with even a relatively affluent developing country like Brazil which – with an almost identical tax rate – collected just $3,957 per person.[1] This enormous difference in tax receipts means that the UK is far better placed to take care of its citizens than Brazil is. The point of foreign aid is to get all countries to the stage where they can collect enough tax to ensure the welfare of all their citizens.

In many cases, developing countries are struggling to overcome poverty because of the actions of developed countries such as the UK. Climate change, disproportionately caused by developed countries, is disproportionately affecting developing countries. Climate change adaptation is already a significant cost for many developing countries, costing Sub-Saharan African countries a total of $10.6 billion a year.[2] It seems only fair that the UK assists with this cost.

Furthermore, the present wealth of the UK is built on the profits of imperialism, which held back the development of many present-day developing countries. Foreign aid is not just an act of charity, but well-deserved compensation for these wrongs.

There are also pragmatic reasons why the UK should continue to send aid to developing countries. It is an excellent way to improve foreign relations and, after all, the aid recipients of today are the trading partners of tomorrow. Helping other countries to develop also contributes to the creation of a more stable world, as states plagued by poverty and inequality are much more likely to be unstable.

Additionally, it is a way to reduce immigration. People born in poor countries are driven by the perfectly natural impulse to seek out a better life for themselves and their family, which often leads them to attempt to move to a wealthier part of the world. Improving the quality of life in their home country therefore reduces the incentive for them to emigrate.

“But what about corrupt dictators and despots?”

Given the examples of Robert Mugabe and other dictators dripping in wealth while the majority of their population struggles to get by, it’s tempting to think that if only these tyrants were toppled, their countries’ problems would be solved. However, more often than not they would simply be replaced by an equally corrupt dictator and these countries would still be poor. Dictators don’t just occur because of individual immorality, but because there are structural factors in place in poor countries which allow dictatorships to easily take hold.

The leader of a poor country essentially has two choices as to what to do with the limited amount of public money at their disposal: use it to improve the lives of their citizens (building roads, hospitals, etc.) or use it to enrich themselves and their key supporters. A good leader would of course use it for the former, but these kinds of leaders tend not to last long. All money spent on helping the public is money which an opportunistic rival can promise key supporters should they replace the current leader. If all dictators around the world were immediately deposed and replaced with benevolent rulers, there would still be plenty of rivals waiting in the wings to take the reins of power – and the opportunities for self-enrichment that come with them.

Part 1 (clip ends at 4.30)

Part 2 (clip ends at 13.30)

When we talk about ‘rich’ and ‘poor’ countries, it doesn’t refer to how much currency they have. Rather, it refers to how productive their economies are. Developed countries like the USA and Japan are rich because their economies have a large proportion of high-productivity industries such as manufacturing, which produce a comparatively large amount of value in a short period of time. This means that workers receive higher wages and the government collects more tax which it can then invest back into the economy.

Developing countries are poor because a greater proportion of their economies are occupied by low-productivity industries such as textile production, agriculture and mineral extraction. One of the objectives of foreign aid is to help developing countries to transition from low-productivity economies to high-productivity ones.

Improving the productivity of developing countries’ economies can actually help to reduce the chances of despots hoarding the nation’s wealth for their own benefit. In a relatively poor country which relies on a few low-productivity industries (e.g. oil or mineral extraction), rulers can get by just keeping the small number of people which run these industries happy. As economies become more productive and therefore reliant on a greater number of industries, rulers must keep a greater number of people happy in order to remain in power, and are therefore set on the path from dictatorship to democracy.

By giving developing countries the nudge they need to reach this productivity threshold, foreign aid can pave the way to democracy and bring about a world where every government is willing and able to help their own people.

[1] fusiontables.google.com/DataSource?docid=1cWAzCSaIBlgUpWJBFXslH31NLh6bCfrn6mvtCA#rows:id=1
[2] www.healthpovertyaction.org/wp-content/uploads/downloads/2014/08/Honest-Accounts-BRIEFING-webFINAL.pdf


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Foreign Aid FAQs – #5 “Foreign aid fuels overpopulation”

Foreign Aid FAQs – #5 “Foreign aid fuels overpopulation”

Concerns about overpopulation, or the ‘population explosion’ as it’s sometimes called, are widespread at the moment. The logic surrounding these concerns is understandable – it seems as if there aren’t enough resources to go around in developing countries, therefore sharing them out amongst more people is only going to make the problem worse.

From this perspective, it appears that overseas aid is fuelling the problem of overpopulation by ‘artificially’ keeping people alive whose environment can’t support them, who then go on to have even more children whose environment can’t support them, and so on.

However, aid spending is actually helping to reduce the number of children being born per family rather than increasing it.

It’s important to understand why people in some developing countries tend to have lots of children. Because there is little or no welfare or pension provision in these countries, people have to rely on their children to look after them if they become too sick or old to work. Because so many children die before they reach adulthood, these parents need to have lots of children to guarantee that enough of them will reach adulthood to be able to look after their parents. For them, having lots of children is both an economic burden and an economic necessity.

The way to encourage people living in such countries to have fewer children is not simply to tell them not to have as many babies. By improving child health and economic security, foreign aid is helping to remove the incentives to have so many children.

The UK went through a similar process in its history. During the 18th century around 4-6 children were born per woman but only 2 of these survived to adulthood. As healthcare and living standards improved, fewer children died and there was therefore less of an incentive for families to have lots of children, leading to the stable birth rate the UK has today. Present-day developing countries have been able to achieve the same results in a fraction of the time. For example, 7 children were born per woman in Bangladesh in 1970. By 2012 that figure had dropped to 2.2, the level required for a stable population.[1]

By helping developing countries to move through the same process that the UK did in previous centuries, and which Bangladesh did between 1970 and 2012, foreign aid is not fuelling population growth but is actually helping to slow it down.

[1] data.worldbank.org/indicator/SP.DYN.TFRT.IN?


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Foreign Aid FAQs – #4 “Overseas aid charities are fraudulent”

Foreign Aid FAQs – #4 “Overseas aid charities are fraudulent”

We’ve all been there – you’re walking down the high street and someone in a brightly coloured t-shirt stops you to ask for donations to help people living in poverty overseas. A nagging doubt appears in your mind: How much of my donation will actually go to the people who need help?

These doubts have been fuelled by recent newspaper articles claiming that international development charities spend a lot of money on wages and so hardly any of the money actually gets to where it’s supposed to. What a scandal! you may think, These charities are frauds, taking money that was meant for those in need. I’ll never donate to them again!

However, these claims are based on a fundamental misunderstanding of what overseas aid charities actually do. In general, these charities do not operate as cash transfer schemes. When you donate £10, that money isn’t put on a plane and flown over to be given to a family living in poverty. Why? Because while this would alleviate some of their problems in the short-term, international development charities aim to achieve much more than that. International development is about asking questions like ‘Why are these people poor in the first place?’ and tackling the root causes so that poverty can be not just alleviated but eradicated.

The issue of global poverty is much more complex than simply giving poor people money. If it were that simple we would have solved it by now. That’s why overseas aid charities carry out research to understand more about the problem so that they can tackle it more effectively; they engage in political lobbying and campaigning to try and change the rules that keep poor countries poor (e.g. tax havens and unjust trade deals); and they invest donations into projects in developing countries (e.g. irrigation and sanitation) which will have a long-term impact far in excess of what would have been achieved simply by handing over a lump sum.

When people donate to an international development charity, all of this is what their donation funds. You can think of it as like donating to a cancer research charity – that money isn’t sent directly to people with cancer, but instead funds an ongoing process aimed at permanently eradicating the problem.

“But charities waste so much money on fundraising and staff wages”

This is a completely valid concern; no-one wants any amount of their donation to be wasted. The vast majority of charities are also concerned with getting as much impact from their donations as possible. That’s why they are governed by trustees – professionals who voluntarily give their time to ensure that the charity is efficiently and effectively run.

Any business that doesn’t invest in its future is doomed to not be around for long. The same is true of charities which don’t invest in fundraising. It may leave a bitter taste in the mouth to think that a portion of your donation is paying for an advertising campaign or for the wages of the annoying person who just stopped you on the high street. But if the portion of your donation which is invested in fundraising encourages another person to donate, then you’ve essentially doubled your impact, and surely that’s worthwhile?

Charities make use of volunteers as much as possible to keep their running costs down, but there are some tasks which require a qualified person to be working on them full-time; and this means that they need to be paid. Charity workers have been portrayed in the media as dodgy and shameful, dipping their hands into funds which were meant to go to the needy. Again, this is based on a misunderstanding of what international development charities actually do. As discussed above, their workers do so much more than process donations. They don’t just enable charitable activities to happen; often their work is the charitable activity.

Sure, charity CEOs probably shouldn’t be getting 6-figure salaries, but there’s nothing dodgy about charity employees getting paid for the work they do. They have bills to pay like everybody else and join the charity sector knowing full well that they will get paid less for doing the same job than if they worked in the private sector. It may be uncomfortable to think that when you donate to charity, that money is going to pay someone’s wages. The truth is, whenever you spend money you’re paying someone’s wages.

When you hire a plumber you’re paying their wages; when you buy milk you’re paying the farmer’s and the shop assistant’s wages; when you buy an iPhone you’re paying a whole host of people’s wages – all the way from the Apple store employees to the people mining the raw materials. The point is that you’re happy to pay their wages because you want the product or service that they provide. The question is whether you think eradicating global poverty is a service which you want to be provided.

Charities have been accused of becoming ‘an industry’ or ‘too corporate’. The fact is that the modern corporation has proven to be a highly efficient and effective structure for getting things done. Just look at the enormous global reach and influence of companies like Microsoft and Coca Cola, and imagine what a charity with that kind of power and influence could achieve. If we’re serious about ending global poverty as soon as possible, surely it makes sense for charities to become as ‘corporate’ as possible, and harness this enormously powerful structure to do something good.


The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Development in Action.

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Foreign Aid FAQs – #3 “We send too much money abroad”

Foreign Aid FAQs – #3 “We send too much money abroad”

Given the significant amount of coverage which the UK foreign aid budget receives in the press, in political discussion, and in charities’ external communications, the public would be forgiven for thinking that the UK sends vast swathes of money overseas. The UK does spend a significant amount of money on international development – in fact it was the first G7 country to meet the UN’s 45-year old aid spending target. The current foreign aid budget stands at approximately £12 billion which is around 1.6% of government spending.

Overall, rich countries send a total of around $125 billion in foreign aid to developing countries each year.[1] Now that is a lot of money, and governments of wealthy nations use this as evidence of their generosity. However, the dominant ‘aid narrative’ glosses over the various ways in which rich countries extract wealth from developing nations, effectively taking back their aid contributions. Below are some examples of how this is achieved:

Debt

In the olden days (pre-1980s), the responsibility was on lenders to make sure that their loans would get repaid. Lending to riskier countries (e.g. those in the developing world) offered a higher rate of return, but carried with it the risk that the borrowing country would default on its loan and the lender would lose out.

This all changed in 1982 when Mexico defaulted on its loans. The US Treasury and the International Monetary Fund, rather than incurring the huge losses which this would have entailed, decided to step in. Instead of letting the loan default, these organisations rescheduled the debt in exchange for Mexico’s adoption of certain economic policies which opened the country up to foreign interests and which are widely regarded to have damaged the Mexican economy, making it more difficult for them to repay.

This treatment, known as ‘structural adjustment’, then became standard. The result has been that the amount of debt owed by developing countries has spiralled as more and more interest was piled onto loans which should have been defaulted on while new loans had to be taken out to cover the repayments, leading to debts many times larger than the original sum. In many cases, so much interest is accrued that the original debt is repaid several times over. For 2015, the debt service paid on external debt by low and middle income countries exceeded $800 billion.[2]

Tax Avoidance

Tax avoidance is theft, plain and simple. Multinational corporations take full advantage of public spending on infrastructure, education, law enforcement, etc. in the countries in which they operate, and then don’t pay for it. Unlike theft, however, for the most part tax avoidance is perfectly legal and carried out through a process known as trade mispricing.

Let’s say that I own an internet search provider – let’s call it ‘Moogle’ – operating in the USA, the UK, and the British Virgin Islands. Now, profits have been good this year and Moogle US and Moogle UK have both made $10 million. However, Moogle British Virgin Islands, since it really only exists on paper, has no profit at all to show. Before the end of the tax year I decide that what the US and UK branches need is a snazzy new logo, so they each pay Moogle British Virgin Islands $10 million for this important work. And would you look at that, hey presto! When the taxman comes round to Moogle US and UK, they unfortunately haven’t made any profit to be taxed on. Perhaps they should take a leaf out of the British Virgin Islands branch’s book where there is $20 million awaiting significantly more ‘business-friendly’ tax rates.

Tax avoidance in developing countries effectively constitutes a transfer of wealth from the public purse to the private coffers of multinational corporations by and large headquartered in the rich countries. In 2012, developing countries lost approximately $991 billion in illicit outflows – greater than the combined foreign aid and foreign direct investment they received that year.[3]

Of course, tax avoidance does not just benefit multinational corporations based in the West, but also wealthy companies and individuals within developing countries who wish to conceal their profits from the tax authorities. However, large-scale tax avoidance is only possible because of the existence of tax havens, the vast majority of which are controlled by a handful of Western countries. For instance, the largest network of tax havens has the City of London at its centre, which controls secrecy jurisdictions throughout the British Crown Dependencies and Overseas Territories.[4]

Trade Rules

Global trade rules can be highly varied, but the most important are those concerning tariffs and regulation of foreign investment. Tariffs are taxes which countries put on foreign goods in order to give an advantage to their own industries. For example, when Japan’s car industry first started out it couldn’t compete with foreign imports, so the Japanese government introduced tariffs which allowed the domestic car industry to grow and nowadays it is one of the best in the world. Regulation maximises the benefit which developing countries get from foreign businesses operating on their soil – for example, requiring them to transfer technology or buy materials from domestic suppliers.

The main thrust of international trade agreements in recent years – primarily as a result of pressure from rich countries – has been to reduce tariffs on manufactured goods (by and large produced in developed countries), and to reduce regulation. Reducing tariffs means that emergent manufacturing industries in developing countries are outcompeted by more established rivals in the developed world, meaning that developing countries are stuck in low-productivity industries such as agriculture and textile manufacture. Reducing regulation means that corporations based in the developing world are able to exploit cheap labour or extract natural resources in a developing country, send the profits back home, and contribute little or nothing to the country’s economic development.

It’s difficult to give an exact figure as to how much these unfair and one-sided trade rules have cost developing countries, but economist Robert Pollin of the University of Massachusetts has estimated the cost at $500 billion a year.[5]

Conclusion

A recent report by Global Financial Integrity which comprehensively examined international financial flows found that for every dollar in aid received by developing countries, $24 is lost through other means.[6]

Of course foreign aid is not the only money which developing countries receive from their wealthy counterparts. In 2012, developing countries received a total of $1.3 trillion from aid, foreign investment, remittances, income from abroad, etc. At the same time, $3.3 trillion flowed out of them, meaning that they experienced a net loss of $2 trillion that year.[7] That’s $2 trillion that could have been spent on combating poverty, improving healthcare, developing industry, or adapting to climate change. Far from being recipients of enormous swathes of cash, overall developing countries are net creditors to the rest of the world.

Source: http://www.globaljustice.org.uk/resources/poor-are-getting-richer-and-other-dangerous-delusions

The fact that the UK spends billions of pounds each year in aid to developing countries is common knowledge. However, the vast amount of money that rich countries receive back from developing countries is not nearly as well known. Perhaps public attitudes towards foreign aid would shift if more people knew that, far from sending too much money abroad, the UK and other rich countries currently do far more harm than good in the developing world.

[1] www.oecd.org/dac/stats/aidtopoorcountriesslipsfurtherasgovernmentstightenbudgets.htm
[2] www.data.worldbank.org/indicator/DT.TDS.DECT.CD?end=2015&locations=XO&name_desc=false&start=1970&view=chart
[3] www.gfintegrity.org/report/2014-global-report-illicit-financial-flows-from-developing-countries-2003-2012/
[4] www.theguardian.com/global-development-professionals-network/2017/jan/14/aid-in-reverse-how-poor-countries-develop-rich-countries
[5] www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/2013/04/201349124135226392.html
[6] www.theguardian.com/global-development-professionals-network/2017/jan/14/aid-in-reverse-how-poor-countries-develop-rich-countries
[7] www.theguardian.com/global-development-professionals-network/2017/jan/14/aid-in-reverse-how-poor-countries-develop-rich-countries


The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Development in Action.

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Foreign Aid FAQs – #2 “Foreign aid should be cut to pay for public services”

Foreign Aid FAQs – #2 “Foreign aid should be cut to pay for public services”

In any given episode of Question Time, especially during episodes in which the NHS funding crisis is discussed, there is a high chance that at some point someone will suggest that a simple way to raise money for public services would be to cut the foreign aid budget.

For one thing, the foreign aid budget isn’t the eye-wateringly large amount of money which people seem to think it is. For 2015 it stood at £12.1 billion. That’s just 1.6% of government spending, about the same as what the government spent on the railways.[1]

Secondly, it doesn’t seem right that reducing assistance for the world’s poorest people is always the first suggestion for where we should source extra public money. The UK’s aid budget is portrayed as this vast, wasteful sum of money that is inexcusable given the cutbacks in other areas of public spending. What is hardly ever mentioned is the enormous amount of money which the UK government spends on corporate assistance, or which is lost through cuts to corporation tax and corporate tax avoidance. Below are some examples:

  • £44 billion in corporate tax breaks.[2] For example, capital allowances which allow businesses to write off billions spent on machinery, vehicles, IT and office equipment against corporation tax.
  • £35 billion on legacy costs of the bank bailouts.[3] Much of this cost is interest payments on long-term borrowing which was used to fund the bailouts following the 2008 financial crash. The government is effectively retaining the ‘bad’ parts of the banks taken into public ownership following the crash, and selling off the ‘good’ parts at a net loss. Furthermore, the banks are protected somewhat from regular market mechanisms and assessments of risk because the UK government effectively guarantees to underwrite these risks.
  • £16 billion in wage subsidies.[4] In-work tax credits effectively subsidise businesses by allowing them to pay their workers less than they need to live, safe in the knowledge that the government will top up their wages. Similarly, housing benefit allows landlords to charge rents far above what their tenants can afford, inflating the rental market.
  • £15 billion in hidden transport subsidies.[5] Airlines do not pay tax on fuel, corporation tax on their ‘economic activity’ within the countries they operate in, or VAT on ticket sales. Train companies enjoy lower duty on fuel.
  • £15 billion lost through procurement from the private sector.[6] The government spends a total of £238 billion (one third of total spending) on procuring services from the private sector. It has been estimated that it could save £15 billion if some services were instead run by the public sector. This is due to the costs involved in drawing up contracts, monitoring projects, project overruns, and picking up the pieces when private sector companies fail. The government also has to pick up additional costs in benefit payments and/or tax credits when workers are laid off or paid less when private companies take over the running of a public service.
  • £14.5 billion in subsidies and grants.[7] These include subsidies to agriculture, train companies (separate from the hidden subsidies mentioned above), the nuclear industry, and the defence industry. Additionally, grants are given to businesses to encourage them to invest in a certain area or to prevent them from collapsing.
  • £12 billion lost to corporate tax avoidance.[8] This is technically legal, as opposed to tax evasion which is illegal, and almost exactly matches the UK aid budget.
  • £5.4 billion lost from cuts to corporation tax since 2010.[9] These tax cuts mean that businesses are paying nearly £8 billion less in corporation tax per year. This could potentially result in more inward investment, but it has been estimated that it will result in a net tax loss of £5.4 billion. The UK already has by far the lowest corporation tax rate in the G7.
  • £3.8 billion in energy subsidies.[10] These subsidies benefit providers of electricity, gas, and oil. They also include legacy nuclear costs – primarily post-production clean-up.
Source: http://www.globaljustice.org.uk/resources/poor-are-getting-richer-and-other-dangerous-delusions

This is not to claim that all of the spending mentioned above should immediately be scrapped, or that none of it has any beneficial impact. The aim of this is to illustrate that there are far more areas of government spending than just foreign aid which could be reviewed when considering what, if anything, should be cut to generate more money for public services.

For those who benefit from the aforementioned subsidies – and for the politicians who represent them – it suits their interests to divert public attention away from the huge amount of financial assistance they receive from the public purse. Much better to encourage people to criticise the relatively small amount of money spend on the foreign aid budget. It’s a classic diversionary tactic, as cynical as it is effective.

So next time a public figure is eager to highlight the foreign aid budget as an easy source of money to pay for public services, ask people to think about if they have any vested interests and if they are trying to divert attention away from the vast sums of money which the UK government spends on corporate assistance. Why are the poorest always the first to pay when money is tight?

[1] www.ukpublicspending.co.uk/uk_budget_detail_16bt12015n_306065#ukgs303
[2-8] www.speri.dept.shef.ac.uk/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/SPERI-Paper-24-The-British-Corporate-Welfare-State.pdf
[9] www.ft.com/content/c0afbfc4-02af-11e4-a68d-00144feab7de
[10] www.theguardian.com/politics/2015/jul/07/corporate-welfare-a-93bn-handshake


The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Development in Action.

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Foreign Aid FAQs – #1 “Charity begins at home”

Foreign Aid FAQs – #1 “Charity begins at home”

The original meaning of this proverb was that a person’s first responsibility is for the needs of their own family and friends. However, nowadays the ‘home’ referred to is frequently not an individual household, but the UK as a whole. When discussing overseas aid, this phrase is often used to argue that the UK should tackle its domestic problems before spending money to help those in need abroad.

This phrase is bandied around as if it’s some kind of universally acknowledged truth – like ‘practice makes perfect’ or ‘scissors beat paper’ – which automatically trumps any other argument. Really, it’s just a group of words which doesn’t make that much sense if you encourage people to think about it for a while.

The point of charity is to help those who need it most. Imagine if someone’s house burned down, and their next door neighbour refused to help because they had rising damp in their walls and so needed to sort that out first because, after all, ‘charity begins at home’. Only the most heartless person would do that, right? The scale and urgency of need must surely be taken into account when deciding where charity is deserved.

Those of us living in the UK are very fortunate that our collective ‘home’ has wealth in abundance. It may not feel like it at times – to someone on a zero-hours contract struggling to pay the rent it must feel like a kick in the teeth to be told they’re fortunate to live in a rich country. The truth is, there is an enormous amount of wealth in this country which could be put to use solving domestic problems if only the British public would vote for policies aimed at tackling economic inequality. In much of the developing world, no matter who they vote for (if they even get to vote) they will still be poor.

It’s hard to even imagine the hardship which exists in some parts of the world. The scale and urgency of their problems make ours seem small by comparison. In the UK it is (quite rightly) a national scandal that so many people are reliant on food banks; in Chad, people routinely starving to death doesn’t even make the headlines. Here, the NHS is experiencing a funding crisis; in Malawi, there is no universal healthcare and medical services are struggling to cope with an AIDS crisis. Here, it is claimed that the ongoing Brexit debate is tearing the country apart; in Colombia, lives, families and communities have been torn apart by decades of civil war.

We have the resources in this country to tackle our domestic problems and help those in need overseas. It doesn’t have to be a choice. Many countries around the world have significant and urgent problems which they need help to solve. If the UK abandons foreign aid because ‘charity begins at home’, we are no better than someone refusing to help their newly homeless neighbour because of their own troubles with rising damp.


The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Development in Action.

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Bilateral versus Multilateral Aid

Bilateral versus Multilateral Aid

Bilateral and multilateral aid are part of the larger ideological debate about the means and the ends of development. The main objective of aid is to promote economic development and welfare of developing countries. There have been many different statistical studies with widely differing results regarding the correlation between aid and economic growth, and therefore, the debate continues.

DFID/Creative commons license
DFID/Creative commons license

Foreign aid is a tool of international development and is part of a huge ideological debate about the processes and the outcome of such aid. Pledged 35 years ago, the world’s richest and most affluent countries committed to meet a UN ODA (Overseas Development Assistance) target of 0.7% of GDP. Only 7 countries have ever met that target*; Norway; Sweden; Netherlands; Luxembourg; Denmark; and the UK. Two such examples of types of aid are bilateral and multilateral aid. The main theoretical difference between these two types of aid is the way in which the funds are transferred. Bilateral aid describes money which is given directly from one government to another, whereas multilateral aid comes from numerous different governments and organisations and is usually arranged by an international organisation such as the World Bank or the UN.

In theory, multilateral aid seems more appropriate for development purposes because of the higher participation of countries, high resources, political neutrality and needs driven projects, and global governance; however, in practice not all of these needs are fulfilled. We have seen an increase in bilateral aid and a stagnation of multilateral aid; an OECD report showing the period between 1960-2008 shows that 71% of aid was bilateral, compared to only 29% multilateral. Does this show a perceived effectiveness of bilateral aid, or simply a preference of the donor countries to retain control or accountability to their people rather than the people of the developing countries?

Bilateral aid allows donor countries to allocate funds to the countries that they deem the most needy and to remain accountable to their people. Bilateral aid is more transparent to the voters because they can see that this sum of money went to this country, whereas a lump of money going to an international organization gives the appearance of wasted funds. However, there is an argument for the selfishness of bilateral aid, seeking to benefit the donor countries over the recipients and maintaining economic colonial ties. On the 14th September 2016, the US approved a $38bn military aid deal with Israel, furthering US political ties to Israel and the political agenda of not recognising the state of Palestine.

Multilateral aid is generally on a larger scale and remains, theoretically at least, politically neutral and therefore needs driven. Multilateral aid tends to focus on large infrastructure projects and has a lower percentage than bilateral aid given to humanitarian aid. Historically however, multilateral aid organisations, such as the UN, have a reputation for financial inefficiency, posing harmful conditions, focusing on economic prosperity over human rights and abusing resources to the extent that much of the funds never reach the recipient countries.

Moving from statistics to society, public opinion is also divided on the matter of bilateral and multilateral aid. The two main arguments for the preference of aid is control and burden sharing. Those in favour of bilateral aid are mostly conservative, and of those that favour bilateral aid, 52% favour it due to the control it gives the country. Mostly Liberal were in favour of multilateral aid, and of those, 32% were in favour due to the element or illusion of burden sharing, sharing the responsibility of helping developing countries with other MEDC’s (more economically developed country).

IMF/Creative commons license
IMF/Creative commons license

But why should aid be accountable to the donor countries constituents? Aid is intended to serve the most needy, not the most fortunate. Yes, it comes out of the tax payers’ pockets, but at a negligible 0.7% of GDP, why should it matter if the people would rather see their money go to a single country rather than an NGO? Aid ought to be recipient driven, accountable to the people who require it and putting their needs central. The needs, concerns and desires of the recipients must be fully accounted for any reasonable conception of development to accurately achieve its goal, to further the freedoms of people worldwide.

As with all debates of importance, there are positives and negatives on both sides, and the choice ends up being which downsides you can live with; political selfish aid or financial inefficiency?

* According to 2013 statistics


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The Luxuries of the Department for International Development

The Luxuries of the Department for International Development

The Department for International Developments budget remains at 0.7% of gross national income. In this article Katie Wand questions whether the current checks and balances in place on DFID’s spending are sufficient.

Call me an idealist, but after centuries of societal evolution, I for one expect the state to hold up their end up of the proverbial deal, fulfilling their duties according to the social contract in return for our societal obligations. Besides, we haven’t sacrificed our civil liberties for nothing, have we?

To justify the recent cuts to the NHS, and the subsequent paychecks and self-respect of our junior doctors, we assume that the government simply does not have sufficient funds to sustain the government service of days gone by. That sounds reasonable; with lower growth forecasts than expected, and an impending crisis overseas, it may pay to be thrifty. As a country that prides itself on its dedication to justice and other worthy attributes, to the extent that it seeks to impose these ideals on other less reputable countries, we can surely assume that our money is being well spent, warranting the taxes we pay, and the civil liberties we cede in order to participate in the mutually beneficial agreement we call society.

Sadly this utopian ideal has been replaced by an unnervingly dystopian reality. Take DFID (The Department for International Development), for example. Of all the government departments, you would hope that the one assigned to the noble task of international development (and the imposition of so-called British ideals) might be one on which we can rely; a beacon of honesty in the obscurity that is the developing world. But where does the money actually go? Aside from the already questionable morals behind British interventionism abroad, in terms of results the proof really is in the pudding, which at times looks about as appealing as some sloppy semolina.  Not so long ago, DFID generously funded a project in Uganda for £150,000. The project was reportedly implemented, budgets signed, etcetera. Later it materialised that this generous sum had been used to design and build not one, but two lovely new houses for the programme officers on the ground. Money well spent, I’d say. If the government is to haphazardly distribute large sums of cash, surely it is not too much to ask that we police the projects, ensuring misconduct like this does not occur?

 

DFID / Creative Commons License
DFID / Creative Commons License

 

This is an example of painstakingly blatant corruption, and is absolutely not unique to Africa. My colleagues in Nepal casually dropped in that whilst working on a DFID funded project in Kathmandu, they and their many associates were treated to breakfast and lunch every day at the most regal and expensive hotel in the country, named Dwarikas. An old palace, Dwarikas is notoriously expensive, and my colleagues reckoned that DFID spent around £10,000 per month on this communal bi-daily feed. It is no wonder that NGO work and international development is one of the most lucrative sectors in developing economies.

It would be naïve to think of this as a dig at DFID. My digging encompasses far more than one sole inefficient government department. Military spending will take up about 5% of the budget, more than twice as much as is spent on housing, unemployment and family and children welfare combined. The age old argument of needing an expansive military for our protection against aggressors might seem reasonable, were we under attack. Yet in my lifetime we have not once defended ourselves against aggressors, but instead have become the aggressor, using our military to not defend, but to attack other countries.

 

Jan Tik / Creative Commons License
Jan Tik / Creative Commons License

 

I am by no means proposing cutting government spending, especially not to foreign development services (nor the NHS, for that matter). What I do propose is that more safeguard measures be put in place, and a results-based system enforced to ensure that public money is put to good use in some of the many wholly worthwhile endeavors.  The tragic and unjustifiable waste of public funds is just testament to the crumbling mess that our social contract has become, whereby state acts independently of society, conducting practice to fit the wishes of the very few. We preach transparency and efficiency, yet we- the British public- unknowingly provide the very fuel to the fire of corruption and inefficiency, both at home and abroad.

At a loss for ideals and expectations, perhaps it is time our notions of government service delivery become more realistic.


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A Defence of Foreign Aid: Why we need Global Development

A Defence of Foreign Aid: Why we need Global Development

During a time of austerity, Britain still continues to allocate 0.7% to foreign aid. Dean Hochlaf defends the target.

Last month, flooding devastated widespread areas of Northern England. This is likely a result of decreasing investment in UK wide flood defences. However, some voices within the political establishment, used this as an opportunity to attack the foreign aid budget. This is a misguided approach, and only serves the false rhetoric that somehow the developing world and developed world are independent of one another. The truth is global development benefits us all. The global economy has never been more integrated, and foreign aid can simultaneously improve domestic economic performance, while at the same time alleviate the brutal conditions caused by poverty, that afflicts far too many in the world today.

Britain is only one of a handful of nations that has achieved the UN target of 0.7% of spending on foreign aid, but hardening attitudes has seen a majority of British people call for a decrease in our aid spending. This, I suspect is due to the general economic malaise Europe is facing. In times of hardship, it is much easier to turn attention inwards, but I fear such an attitude is more detrimental to our interests. Politicians also have a negative impact on public perception of foreign aid. This may be due to the political economy. Benefactors of foreign aid wield little power here in the UK. If there were a transfer of funds away from the military or corporate welfare, this would be more likely to incur a backlash from influential economic agents. Another feature of foreign aid is that the effects are intangible in the short term. It is natural for people to desire immediate gratification from public spending, especially when they are enduring hardships themselves, however this comes at the expense of the long-term economic benefits Britain and the developed world will gain from investing in the future of developing nations, and fostering their economic potential.

Ian Britton / Creative Commons License
Ian Britton / Creative Commons License

 

There is a debate at the moment regarding the significance of foreign aid. I am inclined to believe the evidence which has shown, if foreign aid is targeted appropriately it can make important contributions to the growth of the developing world, and achieving the Millennium Development Goals which revolve around lifting people out of poverty. Why then would the growth of developing nations positively impact Britain? It helps to consider how inefficient a world mired by poverty really is. For the poorest, even small increases in spending can have immense marginal gains. Tiny improvements in healthcare and education for those at the bottom of the global economy can improve their productive potential greatly. Additional units of capital that foreign aid can help provide, will generate much greater returns in a developing nation with very little capital than it would in the developed world. In short, foreign aid can stimulate growth through improving the capabilities and potential of the millions trapped in poverty.

Britain, as an extremely open economy, can only gain from improvements in the global economy, which will arise as a result of foreign aid. There will be wealthier, and larger markets for British firms to explore. A greater pool of skilled labour and potential investment partners. As developing nations expand their production, they will increase their supply, which will lead to cheaper imports from these regions. Furthermore as they attain middle income status, domestic demand for British goods will likely increase, especially given our exports are dominated by high quality, income elastic goods. Given that our own manufacturing industries are in decline, and exports are in a slump, this could be imperative for future economic success. In addition to this, the IMF is also warning of “diminished prospects” with emerging markets facing economic turmoil, which threatens the global economic outlook. A decline in the prospects of developing nations will hinder our economy, and furthermore it will deprive millions of a brighter future. If we don’t act now, the shadow of poverty which haunts the development process will worsen and undermine all the progress we have made. How many people will we lose to poverty, who would otherwise have gone on to make significant contributions to the global economy and society?

Defence images / Creative Commons License
Defence images / Creative Commons License

 

While on the topic, we need to stop questioning which nations receive foreign aid. Foreign aid from Britain is targeted at helping the sick and improving educational opportunities for children. Helping these people shouldn’t be conditional. An argument I have often heard regards India as a nation unworthy of foreign aid, on account of their space program. This misses the point of development entirely. There are millions in India that still face chronic poverty. The government also has a space program. These are not mutually exclusive, but this is precisely what we should be encouraging. Developing a sector that can generate technological improvements, jobs and demand for the type of manufactured goods the developed world produces, is vital for the development process. We should not use the existence of a sector that is crucial for long term growth, as justification for removing aid that goes to the poor and vulnerable.

Whether we like it or not, we live in a globalized world. Economic integration is now commonplace, and barring any major international conflict or disaster, we are unlikely to return to the world of isolated nation states. As a result, the developed and developing world have a symbiotic relationship. What affects one, will affect the other. Foreign aid should not be caricatured as charity. It should be recognised as an investment into our fellow citizens of the global economy. It should be seen as an investment into our partners and friends in a world facing an uncertain and volatile future. The merits of international aid may need to be studied in more depth, so that we focus our efforts into the areas which will reap the most rewards for the people receiving aid, and the future economic success of the world. However, we cannot fall into the populist trap of attacking aid to compensate for domestic failures. Britain benefits from aid. The gains may not be noticeable immediately, but improving the economic state of the world is vital for our universal success, our national security, and our future prosperity. For these reasons, Britain cannot shy away from its international responsibility, and that is why our foreign aid should be defended.

Dean Hochlaf has a Masters in International Finance and Economic Development from the University of Kent. He takes interest in the development of Latin America. He tweets @DHochlaf.

 

 

 

 

 


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Afghanistan after 14 years of Foreign Aid: sustained developments or continued challenges?

Afghanistan after 14 years of Foreign Aid: sustained developments or continued challenges?

Ashraf Ghani, the President of Afghanistan once said, “Economics taught in most of the elite universities are practically useless in my context. My country [Afghanistan] is dominated by drug economy and a mafia; textbook economics does not work in my context.” The quote demonstrates Afghanistan’s atypical economy. In particular, aid has played a significant role in Afghanistan’s economy. Darius Nasimi argues that international aid has played an integral part of the re-generation of its economy and argues for this aid to be continued.

To what extent have achievements been made in relation to economic and political development during the past 14 years in Afghanistan? How has Western involvement in Afghanistan assisted in state reconstruction and the development process? What role have international donors such as the Department for International Development (DFID), US Agency for International Development (USAID) and Gesellschaft fur International Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) played? These are just some of the questions that will be answered throughout the course of this article.

Afghanistan is a country at the heart of Asia. With a past that spans over 5000 years and the cradle of civilization dominated by thought and ideas of intellectual scholars like Rumi and Avicenna. It has constantly been a hotspot for geopolitical dominance by neighbouring powers. The Greeks, Arabs, Mongols and the imperial powers of the last two centuries have always drawn particular emphasis or attention towards Afghanistan. However, the past 14 years of involvement by the international community not only marks a pivotal moment for the history of Afghanistan but has impacted the country’s citizens more significantly than ever before. Kabul is now the world’s fifth fastest growing city.

Prior to reviewing the changes and developments made by Western nations to existing aspects of Afghan society, it would be imperative to mention the overriding factor which has actually provided the foundation for social reforms and initiatives to take place. The establishment of the civil society as a third sector has been integral in assisting the most vulnerable in society and essentially fulfilling crucial government policies through the implementation of projects across the country reaching isolated and marginalized communities. After all, it is civil society consisting of NGO’s and charity organisations that reduce the strain off the government and prioritise the needs of the least advantaged members of society by using a bottom-up approach. Large international donors such as the DFID and USAID have played a fundamental role in this. For instance, DFID recently awarded a three year grant to the Afghanistan and Central Asian Association (ACAA), a UK registered charity to open up two Citizens Advice Centres (similar to the Citizens Advice Bureaus in the UK) in Kabul and the northern city of Pul-i-Khumri. The centres provide free, impartial and confidential legal advice to vulnerable communities. This example demonstrates the usefulness of the civil society in raising people’s awareness of their legal entitlements outside of more traditional tribal jurisprudence like “Pashtunwali” and consequently empowering them to become more active citizens of Afghanistan. Furthermore, hundreds of hospitals, schools and universities have also been built, showing the diversity of the work NGO’s are capable of doing. Therefore, it seems justifiable to conclude by saying that the civil society has a long-lasting impact on society by attempting to replicate the social services available to people in developed countries like the UK and helping to breed successful future generations.

DFID / Creative Commons License
DFID / Creative Commons License

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Below is a concise evaluative list of achievements that have been made during the past 14 years by international reconstruction agencies and donors such as DFID and USAID.

  • Expanded access to education – produced over 300 million new textbooks, trained 152,000 teachers, built and refurbished more than 3000 schools
  • Built a National Healthcare System – Improved life expectancy of Afghans from 42 years to 64 years. More than 2000 health facilities built, serving two million people per month.
  • Improvements in Health of Women and Children – Training of over 24,000 community health workers and 4000 midwives.
  • Strengthened Female Political participation – In the 2014 elections, females represented more than 35 per cent of voters. Women now represent 11 per cent of sitting judges and 20 per cent of female judges are now in training.
  • Created Jobs and supported Economic growth – Afghanistan’s GDP has grown from $4 billion in 2002 to more than $20 billion in 2013. The annual national income has increased from $210 (£134) per capita in 2004 to $700 (£447) in 2013. The development of the ICT sector – a $1.81 billion per year industry employing more than 135,000 people.
  • Access to Electricity, Markets and to each other – 41 per cent of people are connected to electricity grids, including 2 million in Kabul. More than 3500 km of roads built in Afghanistan.
  • Supported Agri-business, farmers and their families – More than $93 million in loans provided to more than 48,000 farmers, facilitated over $500 million in direct sales of agricultural products.
  • Strengthened Regional connections – Facilitated the export of goods worth $60 million including Cashmere, fruit and saffron to foreign countries like the UK.
  • Expanded Independent Media – More than 13,000 media professionals have been trained, including 5,000 women. More than 75 private television stations and 200 private radio stations have been funded, e.g. USAID providing $2 million to MOBY Group.
  • Enhanced Afghan government capacity and revenue generation – More than 26,000 civil servants (26 per cent women), increased domestic revenue from $6.7 million in 2008 to $1.9 billion in 2013.

Considering the changes and developments that have occurred in numerous sectors of society, it would be appropriate to thank the international community for their past and ongoing efforts in creating a democratic and economically stable Afghanistan. The past 14 years has witnessed substantially positive achievements in many areas. The first ever democratic transition of power in 2014 from Karzai to Ashraf Ghani is a remarkable success for Afghanistan’s history and this is all due to the assistance of the international community who ensured transparency was prioritised. But, in light of the recent escalating security issues and a slight decline in economic growth, I believe it would be justified and reasonable to have continued political and financial assistance from the international community in order to further develop Afghanistan’s growing economy and help reduce security issues.

                                                                                             

 

Darius Nasimi has just finished school in London, completing his GSCE’s and will start Sixth form in September. He has volunteered in two charity organizations which seek to improve the human rights situation inside Afghanistan as well as help to integrate Afghans into British Society. These are the Afghanistan and Central Asian Association and the European Campaign for Human rights for the people of Afghanistan. Darius has travelled to Afghanistan 7 times and has witnessed reforms and developments take place. His interests include international relations, the role of the civil society in assisting development and the history of Afghanistan.


The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Development in Action.

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Relief in Nepal; an uphill struggle

Relief in Nepal; an uphill struggle

On the 25th April, an earthquake measuring 7.9 on the Richter scale struck Nepal, in the nation’s deadliest natural disaster since 1934. Subsequent aftershocks and another major quake 18 days later has brought the death toll to nearly 9,000.  Katie Wand asks if, after millions of dollars worth of international aid has entered the country, has it been well spent?

Nepal is the second poorest country in Asia, with annual GDP per capita standing at less than 2,000USD. With a heavy reliance on remittances and tourism, the economy is fragile. The government lacks resources, generating internal challenges that hinder the effectiveness of aid distribution.

Recent weeks have been testament to this; large quantities of supplies have been resting in Kathmandu airport since the initial disastrous earthquake, as the Nepali government  failed to mobilise resources. Government regulation and administrative issues have prevented aid workers from putting international relief resources into use, whilst thousands remain homeless and desolate.

Asian Development Bank
©Asian Development Bank/Creative Commons License

Of the supplies that have escaped the confines of the airport, evidence suggests that much of it has not been received by those most in need. Roughly 80% of Nepal’s 28 million residents live in rural areas. This makes for a sporadically dispersed, and highly inaccessible population, with few areas of densely concentrated populations. The poor quality roads wind through the treacherous terrain of the Himalayas, and many villages are unreachable by vehicle. It is these isolated villages that are not seeing aid, as the challenge of its delivery is simply too great for most relief-distributing agencies. With a large part of central Nepal requiring supplies of some kind at this time, it is easy for aid agencies to distribute to those that are most accessible, rather than to those most in need.

In addition to a lack of government resources and poor infrastructure, Nepal’s relief effort is further obstructed by political barriers that restrain the effective and egalitarian distribution of aid. A civil war lasting 10 years ended in 2006 in Nepal, leaving the country both politically divided and deeply anguished by corruption, as fractured political parties compete for hegemony on the tense political stage.  Over the past 3 weeks, political tensions have spilled over into the relief effort, and aid has become politicized. We have seen an elitist bias for aid distribution, whereby politically influential communities are favoured, and marginalised communities are excluded.

Nepal’s inability to respond to the needs of its people in crisis has rendered it highly dependent on international aid at this time. As honourable as the intentions of international donors may be, the subordinated role that the Nepali government has adopted in its own relief effort has led to a lack of coordination between local and international agendas, and supplies received do not always match the desires or needs of the affected people.

So what can be done to actually help the Nepali people? Firstly we need to start thinking about recovery, instead of relief. Relief serves to aid a situation in times of immediate danger- for example, the provision of rice in the week following the earthquake was vital, as food supplies were cut by the devastation. However, a month has passed and we need to look at more sustainable and long-term approaches. In supplying food to those who already have access to such items may be welcomed by impoverished locals, but actually serves to restrict trade within communities, taking away the livelihood of, for example, the local rice seller. Provision of food and water may seem all good and well but in the longer term has negative social and economic implications for its recipients.

©International Organization for Migration/Creative Commons License
©International Organization for Migration/Creative Commons License

The recovery of Nepal will very much depend on whether the government is able to overcome the hurdles that have restricted its effectiveness in relief. The current government initiative to give compensatory payouts to the families of the deceased is both inconsequential and extremely shortsighted. Rather than temporarily paying off families with a small lump of cash, the government should provide jobs to stimulate the economy and allow people to actively make a sustainable living rather than further inducing reliance upon a highly unreliable source. Infrastructure will be needed before any real gains are made; if this wasn’t a priority before the earthquake, it certainly should be now. However, all the above is highly dependent on the government’s capacity to mobilise its resources and channel them into sustained growth and development.

The question remains as to how individuals from around the globe can help in the clear up. Well, it is evident that without financial backing Nepal will be unable to rejuvenate itself any time soon. Donations are always welcome and have played an important role in the clear up thus far, although individuals should be aware of administrative costs that can set large organizations back by more than 70% of their funding. Smaller organisations are more accountable, but the reach of their works is naturally limited by limited budgets. Whichever organization you do choose, be careful to select one that was established before the earthquake, to prevent the donation going directly in to the pockets of a few corrupt government officials. What Nepal really needs is to regain its tourism industry, which accounted for 10% of jobs prior to the earthquake. The same mountains, flora and fauna remain, and the country is now safe to visit. Tourism is a sure way of providing income to those who most desperately need it, and I urge you all to come to this amazing country.

In the short-term, aid is required to rebuild houses, roads and schools. However, more long-term solutions to the disaster require careful planning and organic economic growth. This is largely the responsibility of the Nepali government, but it is our job as the international community to put pressure on governing institutions to ensure that this happens.


The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Development in Action.

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Journalists and NGOs- working better together?

Journalists and NGOs- working better together?

In this article, Lorraine Patch problematises the relationship between development agencies and media outlets, considering their differences, and exploring how they can work better together. 

The media and NGOs have something of a symbiotic relationship: one needs the other. However, rumblings of a rift between the two has recently become a topic of conversation, culminating in the International Broadcasting Trust (IBT) report The Aid Industry- What Journalists Really Think by Helen Magee. There was also a discussion held last month on the Guardian Global Development Professionals Network, facilitated by leading communications and NGO representatives.

The IBT report suggests that journalists think NGOs are too corporate and present a negative view of Africa. In response, NGOs say that journalists are frustratingly unresponsive to major crises, cherry-pick cases which they think are newsworthy, and oversimplify or disengage with long-running conflicts and humanitarian disasters.

However, mainstream media remains a major route for NGOs to raise awareness of their causes.

©Rodrigo SEPÚLVEDA SCHULZ/Creative Commons License
©Rodrigo SEPÚLVEDA SCHULZ/Creative Commons License

No longer untouchable

The IBT report goes some way to suggest that this shift in perception is due to previous scandals seen recently affecting the media environment, such as the financial crisis, the expenses scandal in the UK and malpractice at public institutions. The report suggests that there has been a change in the idea that NGOs are exempt from criticism. They are no longer considered untouchable, especially concerning transparency as the industry adapts to a higher level of scrutiny.

Nevine Mabro, head of foreign news at Channel 4 News described this change:

“In the past there was perhaps a feeling that they were untouchable because the majority of what they do is good so they weren’t worthy of investigation in the way that a big corporation would be…”

There is a consensus that the aid sector needs to be more open and transparent, and this has been further pushed as a result of this month’s bill to honour 0.7 pledge of aid. At a time of cut backs and austerity for many, international aid is subject to more criticism than we have ever seen.

However, despite these differences, it is interesting to note the similarity of the objectives that both journalists and NGOs strive for. Embedded within the two entities of international journalism and development NGOs is the notion of powerful storytelling. With ambitious fundraising targets and widening inequality between the developed and developing world, the lines between reality and fiction have potentially become blurred. NGOs face a constant struggle in saturated market to grab attention and, in the past, this has arguably led to a decline in quality storytelling.

So how can aid agencies and NGOs work better together?

During the Guardian debate, Tobias Denskus suggested that NGOs need to explore new journalistic formats such as Buzzfeed, and Vice.

The media is changing to an online focused environment and present different needs from traditional media sources such as newspapers and television are different.  As a result, NGOs need to prepare better and become more adventurous in their storytelling. They need to provide quality, sharable, newsworthy, truthful content to benefit journalists. In the Guardian conversation, a point which reappeared several times was the move away from statistics and the desire to tell the human side of the story.

8713986034_3a4604ed7d_o
©Alisdare Hickson/Creative Commons License

Focusing on the Human Story

Another point which resonated was the agreement that the aid industry needs to change, and that this process has already started, particularly the larger NGOs. In an age of scrutiny and information, previous tactics used by NGOs to gain press attention simply do not work.

NGOs are increasingly responsive to this change; many are turning to dedicated teams that create content which is appealing and usable by journalists. Citizen driven media and documentaries are some of the ways NGOs and the media are making their storytelling more truthful, usable and supporting long term change.

These are ways which are more suited to telling the human side of the story and avoiding statistics. It is also helping to find alternative ways of delivering messaging avoiding outdated methods such as guilt driven imagery, ‘poverty porn’, provocation and the use of celebrities.

Possibly the biggest challenge for all NGOs and particularly smaller ones, is making long term grassroots development work as newsworthy as emergency aid. The Guardian conversation reflected the desire of many aid workers to prompt the media into using truthful, quality and human storytelling.

One of the panel members, Andy Shipley suggested why this is so important:

“The reality is, the sheer scale of many of the crises affecting the world today seem insurmountable and incomprehensible. Yet if you can relay the stories of individuals and how we can help them help themselves… surely that’s something both NGOs and the media can agree on”

The endless possibilities provided by social media and new forms of storytelling are an exciting time for development NGOs. New methods of communication could potentially have a big impact on development work, encourage social activism and provoke cultural awareness in developed countries. Both discussions highlight problems in areas of journalism and development NGOs, but also importantly define the potential to improve relationships and work better together.


The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Development in Action.

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The Politics of Band Aid

The Politics of Band Aid

Does the backlash against Band-Aid centre attention upon the politics of celebrity activism? Charlotte Fraser looks at the role it has in detracting attention away from broader, structural and long-term factors which have contributed to the Ebola crisis

Band Aid is a charitable enterprise which brings celebrity artists together to record music and send proceeds raised by sales of the tracks to combat humanitarian crises. Traditionally fronted and organised by Bob Geldof, Band Aid has come together multiple times over the last 30 years, has attracted some major names in the music industry and has raised billions in aid.  In November 2014, the 4th reincarnation of the original Band Aid group from 1984 released Band Aid 30 in order to raise money for the Ebola crisis in Africa. Geldof presented the campaign to the public as “the most anti-human disease” but, with the public’s help, as a combatable problem, “we can stop it, and we will stop it.”

©Matthias Muehlbradt/Creative Commons license
©Matthias Muehlbradt/Creative Commons license

Band Aid 30 has elicited criticism and galvanised debates across media platforms. Whereas past releases of Band Aid singles passed with relatively little controversy, this current one has unleashed a debate about Band Aid and its effects. Critics argue Band Aid and its lyrics are patronising and perpetuate a singular image of Africa. Others focus on celebrity responses and their reasons for refusing to participate in the record. Lilly Allen, Adele, Fuse ODG among others have openly announced their turning down of participating in the record and even Emeli Sande has noted her dissatisfaction with the lyrics and has admitted that her edits were rejected for the final version.

This debate on the politics of Band Aid opens a space for alternative perspectives on the nature of international aid and counters some generalised perceptions of Africa. Indeed, Africa is a diverse continent with some of the world’s fastest growing economies and should not be singularly represented through the lens of poverty and destitution. However, for all the merits of the backlash against Band Aid, it has largely been overtaken by two opposing trends.

The trend towards collectivism

Critics note that Band Aid is in danger of perpetuating damaging binary structures of “us” and “them”. This ‘othering’ is a relic from colonialism whereby the ‘civilised’ Westerners went to educate and save the, non-western, ‘others’ of non-Western societies. This myopic stance sustains perceptions of Africa as somehow below Western civilisation. Such a simple differentiation leaves no room for a multiplicity of voices. It is reflected in the less-than-nuanced lyrics of the Band Aid song, and although it would be myopic to boil down a broader problem of power relations to one song, there is a danger that these lyrics reflect and perpetuate damaging and misconceived perceptions of Africa. This is an important consideration and is parodied for example in the Radi-Aid, Africa for Norway satirical video.

The trend towards hyper-individualisation

However, there is an additional element to this which needs to be teased out. Whilst on the one hand the concept of “us” suggests some kind of commonality and unity, the response to Ebola through Band Aid demonstrates a simultaneous yet converse  trend towards hyper individualisation.

As long as the response to Ebola remains centred on the actions of a few individuals, the effect will be that Band Aid becomes more about the politics of charity and celebrity activism than efforts to  combat the disease. Thus, criticism and counter-criticism concerning the politics of Band Aid actually serves to focus attention on the West, rather than what is, or is not, being done on the ground to combat Ebola. For example, much attention has been centred on Adele, her refusal to participate in Band Aid and instead to quietly contribute money to the appeal. The media frames this as a singular response to a very complex problem when it is widely agreed that combating Ebola requires a coordinated response at an international level. The danger with the politics of Band Aid debate is that it has the effect of centring the response to the Ebola crisis on a few individuals.

The broader problem with this trend towards hyper-individualisation is that it presents Band Aid as a panacea, when it really is a plaster to cure a few short-term problems without engaging in serious and nuanced debate about why the outbreak developed into the crisis it now is. Furthermore, it allows a sense of altruism for those artists and the people who buy the single allaying the ‘white man’s burden’.

The distraction of Band Aid

The reasons are far more complex and long-term than discussions around who has sung for Band Aid, really engage with. As Harman shows, the health systems of countries suffering under the current Ebola outbreak and their problems with containing it can partly be explained by a lack of government investment in public health infrastructure or heath surveillance.

©DFID - UK Department for International Development/Creative Commons license
©DFID – UK Department for International Development/Creative Commons license

The reasons for this failure should be explored and rectified. Is it governmental incompetence? Or perhaps the sheer number of actors such as NGOs and bilateral aid agencies playing a role in national strategic plans? A lack of funding and flexibility to respond to needs on the ground, enhanced by the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) prioritisation of HIV/AIDS, malaria and reducing child mortality? In truth it is probably a mixture of all these factors, and more.

These factors all points towards a recognition of long-term, structural problems which have contributed to the current crisis. There is a very real danger that the debate surrounding Band Aid presents this Ebola outbreak as a one-off, short-term problem that can be funded and solved; it does not encourage engagement in the broader issues of international politics. And it does not encourage thinking around more nuanced, thought-provoking questions as to why Ebola has escalated to the problem it currently is.

Band Aid is any fundraisers dream and it is raising money for a highly worthwhile cause. There is, however, a need to engage with the debates that Band Aid opens up to ensure that the attention remains upon the real issues, rather than on the politics of charity and celebrity activism.


The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Development in Action.

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Ebola: ‘Africa’s problem’

Ebola: ‘Africa’s problem’

How does the developed world respond to crises in the developing world? Sabrina Marsh explores the current Ebola outbreak in light of inequality, international aid and globalisation. 

We have seen the news stories and read the sensationalist headlines about the spread of the deadly Ebola virus. However, with only a handful of deaths outside of the three main West African countries where the outbreak is concentrated, is this response misplaced? It is easy to put Ebola in a box along with other ‘African problems’, such as poverty, starvation and HIV/AIDS.  We in the West need to seriously reconsider our approach to Ebola, not because it is an African problem that threatens us, but because it underlines a significant flaw in how we view international problems, both politically and socially. With globalisation and the increased interconnectedness of the world, this schism between issues that affect ‘us’ and ‘them’ is narrowing.

©EC/ECHO/Jean-Louis Mosser/Creative Commons license
©EC/ECHO/Jean-Louis Mosser/Creative Commons license

The current Ebola epidemic is deadly and is the worst recorded outbreak since its discovery in 1976. It has killed over 5000 people with 14000 reported cases worldwide.  These numbers are likely to be much higher, hiding the true extent of the devastation. Most of these are confined to West Africa, with Liberia recording the highest death toll. Ebola is easily transmitted and an effective killer with the mortality rate estimated to be at 70 per cent. The first reported case for this Ebola outbreak dates back to December last year. This may come as a surprise to some with media reports making it seem this current outbreak has only recently cropped up. Such a lag in the Western world’s concern and attention highlights our biased view of what counts as a crisis.

Ebola is now on many politicians’ minds as the virus rises up the international priority list, dictated by the West. The exact causes of Ebola are not understood, although there is a general consensus that it derives from fruit-eating bats which are a West African delicacy. A lack of resources, including basic healthcare services, across many countries in Africa has done little to negate the quick spread of the virus.  By way of example, Guinea has 10 doctors per 100,000 people while the US has 245 doctors for the same number. With a number of potential cases and deaths reported in Spain and US, panic across Europe and North America is on the rise.

The current approach towards ‘African’ problems by the West is unlikely to change soon. Future crises in Africa will be met with the same delayed response. This trend has been seen with other concerns originating from Africa, such as the ongoing crisis in the DRC which continues to kill many. Even now the frenzied media attention on Ebola has been met with lukewarm responses by policymakers, with cases of refusal to send medical personnel. This is especially shocking when the WHO estimates that it will cost $1 billion to combat the disease. European governments have reacted merely by pouring millions of pounds into controls which will do little to dent Ebola’s spread. Although Ebola is unlikely to ever become a real threat in the rich West where we have access to advanced medical care facilities needed to treat and care for the sick, it is time we began to recognise these huge global resource inequalities.

©The Speaker/Creative Commons license
©The Speaker/Creative Commons license

The inequality between citizens in parts of Europe and those in sub-Saharan Africa is unlikely to change dramatically in our lifetime. However, crises such as Ebola should be used to draw attention to the need for greater equality between the developed and developing world. Heightened equality would ultimately benefit us all through greater innovation, social mobility and better education. Many governments have spent too many resources putting in place screening facilities and border controls – scare tactics – which are unhelpful for a number of reasons, including cutting off Ebola victims from aid. However, some benefits have come about due to the media attention on Ebola. Increasing amounts of funds and help have been sent to devastated regions in Africa. A significant reduction in new reported Ebola cases is reassuring.

Ultimately parts of Africa will be devastated by this virus and the economic and social consequences in the region will be overlooked by the West as a problem somewhat detached from our own concerns. However, this crisis marks a growing consensus that threats to the West are no longer simply military in form. Ebola shows us that the problems in far-flung lands are no longer remote. It is time we all looked at global problems in a more effective way, recognising the inter-dependency of citizens worldwide. We have a history of turning away from Africa’s problems, but it is time such crises are seen in a new international light which focuses on the underlying causes.

 

 

 


The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Development in Action.

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Aid to Somerset: Can we do better than comparing vulnerable populations?

Aid to Somerset: Can we do better than comparing vulnerable populations?

ON SATURDAY, THE DAILY MAIL USED ITS FRONT PAGE TO SUPPORT CLAIMS FROM SOME MPS THAT OVERSEAS AID SHOULD BE DIVERTED TO VICTIMS OF THE FLOODING IN SOMERSET. HERE, blog editor RICHARD MORAN ARGUES THAT THIS DEBATE IS UNCONSTRUCTIVE AND DAMAGING TO VULNERABLE PEOPLE IN THE UK AND DEVELOPING COUNTRIES.

 

Flooding on the Somerset Levels. ©nickserabi / creative commons
Flooding on the Somerset Levels.
©nickserabi / creative commons

“SPEND OUR FOREIGN AID ON BRITISH VICTIMS OF FLOODING” the front page of the Daily Mail exclaims, citing calls from a minority of MPs. The article goes on to outline their arguments that UK taxpayer money should be diverted from official development assistance to help flood victims and prevent further disasters in the UK.

“We’ve got to make sure we look after our own at this stage.  Foreign aid is good, but it is wasted,” states Neil Paris, the Conservative MP for Tiverton and Honiton. Ian Liddell-Grainger, the Conservative MP for Bridgewater in Somerset is quoted as saying: “We send money all over the world, now we need to give people down here the hope that they will get what they need”.

Arguments such as these create a false debate, where we are forced to make direct comparisons between the suffering of people in Somerset and those in developing countries. In the accompanying comment piece, the Mail describes victims of the floods as “living in the most appalling Third World squalor”. Keep reading →


The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Development in Action.

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Cash transfers: global development’s “quiet revolution”

Cash transfer programmes empower poor people in developing countries to take control over their own lives. DiA blogger Hannah Loryman explores why they’re so successful

People in India tend to spend money on healthcare. Photo by Irekia/ Creative Commons
People in India tend to spend money on healthcare. Photo by Irekia/ Creative Commons

Over the past 15 years there has been a “quiet revolution” in development. Not in the form of ground breaking technological advancements or complicated new theories. Instead, the idea is simple: give money directly to the people who need it, through cash transfers. These are a key component of social protection: policies to protect the poor which include non-contributory pensions, health insurance and other benefits. Originally these were mainly implemented in middle income countries; however, low income countries are increasingly introducing programmes of their own (although they are often donor funded). Successful programmes across Latin America, Asia and Africa have demonstrated the potential of cash transfers to reduce poverty and vulnerability. Keep reading →


The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Development in Action.

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