Friday 30 March 2012

More AND better aid: we can and should have both

The House of Lords Economic Affairs committee's realisation that the quality of overseas aid to developing countries could be improved is not news to those of us who have been engaged in the "aid lobby" for many years. I developed the following "Good Aid" guide some twenty years ago and have used it in teaching and talks ever since.

A “Good Aid” Guide

1. Aid by itself will not solve the problems of world poverty, but it can help. Always see aid in the context of trade, debt relief, human rights, the arms trade and other relevant issues.
2. Campaign for better quality aid as well as increased quantity.
3. Good quality aid involves local people: make sure the poor are consulted about what they need.
4. The most successful projects seem to be small-scale ones directed at the poorest (often women) rather than large scale prestige projects.
5. Non-government organisations (NGOs) on both sides have a good record.
6. Good aid is in an appropriate style…
7. …and uses appropriate technology.
8. There needs to be long-term follow-up.
9. The motivation should be justice rather than charity.
10. Aid should be in the interests of the recipients, not just the donors.
11. Good aid aims to develop people rather than things.
12. Aid directed at individuals rarely solves the cause of the problem: aim to help communities.

Reading between the lines gives a good indication of what can go wrong. For example, Item 10. It has been common knowledge that Landrover was kept afloat for years by the UK's aid budget, to which, I believe Mrs Thatcher actually charged the new post war airport in the Falklands.

So a lot still needs to be done.

Where the House of Lords committee is grossly in error is in its proposal that the target of 0.7% of GDP should be abandoned. There are many reasons for this, among them:

1. As David Cameron, to his great credit, wrote in the Observer last July: "I don't believe it would be right to ignore the difference we can make, turn inwards solely to our own problems and effectively balance our books while breaking our promises to the world's poorest." Happily the Department for Overseas Development appears to be sticking robustly to this commitment.

2. The promise to raise our aid budget to 0.7% of GDP was origninally made by the British government in 1969. It is outrageous and shameful that, over 40 years later and when we are now, in spite of our present economic difficulties, around three times as rich as we were then, we still haven't met the target.

3. Meeting the target was a manifesto pledge of all three major parties, plus the Greens, in the last election. How can the public be expected to trust anything politicians say if a pledge can be so easily abandoned?

And, talking of pledges, there are Liberal Democrat peers on this committee and its recommendation is said to have been unanimous. Who on earth are they and of what can they have been thinking? We of all parties should be very conscious of the danger of breaking pledges.

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