Fri, Jan 18, 2013 - Page 9 News List

Aid to developing countries can work

Far from creating dependency, strategic assistance from the West can help developing countries to help themselves

By Larry Elliott  /  The Guardian

Whereas Labour favored general budget support for poor countries — giving governments more control over their own spending — the coalition has preferred to finance specific projects.

Greening has insisted that a minister must sign off spending on any development project costing more than £5 million (US$8 million) rather than the previous limit of £40 million. She has announced the end of UK aid to India; stopped money for Rwanda amid evidence that it has been used to finance rebel forces in the Democratic Republic of the Congo; and has suspended all direct aid to Uganda after reports of misuse. This would appear to be the zero-tolerance approach the aid skeptics are urging. Certainly, it is hardly consistent with the lurid stories of the DFID sitting idly by while taxpayers’ money is being siphoned off into numerous Swiss bank accounts.

However, corruption is not going to be tackled simply by turning off the flow of official Western assistance. It will also require action against tax havens, against the arms trade and against multinational companies guilty of bribery. The aid skeptics tend to be far less vociferous about these issues.

Third, there is plenty of evidence to show aid is working. The charity One has compiled a list of 14 African countries — including Ethiopia, Tanzania, Malawi and Senegal — that shared characteristics in the period after 2000: They qualified for debt relief; they were not dependent on extractive industries; they were not embroiled in civil conflict.

On average, in these countries aid flows increased threefold between 2000 and 2010, but there was no sign that official assistance crowded out private investment. Far from it, foreign direct investment increased fourfold over the same period. Growth averaged 5.5 percent between 2000 and 2011, an impressive performance given the meltdown in the global economy that followed the financial crisis of 2007.

In 2002, there were 300,000 people receiving HIV/AIDS medicine; today the number exceeds 8 million. As a result of international aid efforts, the number of Africans with access to a bed net has increased from 3 percent to 50 percent in a decade. Spending on vaccines, bed nets and nutrition has meant child mortality in sub-Saharan countries has dropped by 41 percent. Education is seen — rightly — as the key to competing in the global economy, and over the past decade 51 million more children are in primary school because of the resources provided by debt relief and aid.

The DFID funds a scheme in Sierra Leone called “Making it Happen,” where skilled health workers from Britain share their expertise with doctors, nurses and midwives in an attempt to reduce high levels of infant and child mortality.

Far from creating a dependency culture, this is an example of “smart aid”: the provision of know-how and best practice that will help Sierra Leone help itself. There are similar UK government initiatives to sponsor technology transfer and to boost private sector investment in infrastructure.

All these seem worthy uses for the £0.70 in every £100 of national income the British government allocates to help countries far less fortunate than our own.

It is certainly strange that the government is making life more difficult for poor people in the UK at the same time it is trying to improve the lot of even poorer people in the rest of the world.

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