Freelance writer Kevin Perry considers the coalition’s controversial decision to safeguard funding for international development amidst cuts to the rest of the public sector. Having volunteered for a year in Orissa, India, with VSO, he examines the question of why India, with the world’s second fastest growing economy, really needs overseas aid. More of Kevin Perry’s work can be found at www.kevinegperry.com.
When Andrew Mitchell, the secretary of state for international development, announced recently that the UK plans to give more than £1billion in aid to India over the next four years, it prompted a wave of derision from some sections of the press. “Why on earth is cash-strapped Britaingiving £1 billion of aid to a country that can afford its own space programme?”asked Stephen Glover in the Daily Mail while over in the Express, Jimmy Young argued ‘India doesn’t need our aid anymore…Britain does.’
I can see why people are making this argument – India has the world’s second fastest growing economy and is now firmly established as a ‘middle-income country’, but the fact remains that there are 450 million people living on less than US$1.25 a day. This apparent disconnect extends well beyond India. It used to be the case that development aid was about helping poor countries, but now 72% of the world’s poor people live in middle-income countries.
I think part of the problem is a failure to grasp India’s vast size. There are more poor people in eight Indian states than there are in the 26 countries of sub-Saharan Africa combined, and looking at these states individually makes the need for aid obvious. For example, Bihar has a population the size of Germany and an annual income per person of £200.
DFID will focus its spending in just three states: Bihar, Madhya Pradesh and Orissa – the state where I live and work. I decided to get in touch with DFID here inIndiato get their opinion on the debate. They told me: “The pace ofIndia’s transformation to date is remarkable. ButIndia’s poorest states – each of them larger than most African countries – still face huge development challenges. For example close to half of the young children in Orissa are undernourished. To put the scale of the challenge into context, in Orissa – just one ofIndia’s 28 states – the number of people who live on the equivalent of less than 80 pence a day ($1.25) is 40% of the entireUKpopulation.”
They added: “As part of the revitalised British relationship withIndia, following Prime Minister David Cameron’s successful visit last year, our development partnership has an important role to play. We are discussing with the Government of India a new approach. Over the next few years, inIndia’s poorest states, we want to help the private sector to deliver jobs and basic services like health and education in areas which desperately need them. We also want to target our support to the poorest women and girls, and help them get quality schooling, healthcare and nutrition.”
Meanwhile in theUK, Christian Aid director Loretta Minghella welcomed the fact that DFID money will be going where it is needed most: “The emphasis of theUKgovernment programme is on three of the poorest states in the country where there remain huge challenges, particularly in providing education and health care, nutrition and jobs.”
The Indian government is running a host of its own schemes designed to alleviate poverty in these states, but the UK’s attention is able to leverage support and attention for the poorest people who often lack a political voice within the country. There’s also an argument that by helping the poorest Indians, the UK is making friends and influencing people who will soon be a global power themselves.
As Ms Minghella pointed out: “The UKaid will fit in well with the Indian government’s own strategy of targeting the poorest and most excluded communities. To withdraw aid at this crucial juncture inIndia’s development would be extremely short-sighted.”
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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