Tuesday, 1 March 2011

Response to UK Aid Review

Today saw the UK Government announce its Review of UK Aid. Andrew Mitchell, Secretary of State for International Development in the Coalition Government, announced that the UK Government would honour its commitment to spend 0.7% of Gross National Income (GNI) by 2013 – in accordance with the Millennium Development Goals. In the UK that means that for every pound of tax that is paid, less than a penny of that will go to helping some of the world’s poorest people. Yet, this relatively small amount of money would make a tremendous difference to so many lives. Both Andrew Mitchell and Harriet Harman (Shadow Secretary of State for International Development) highlighted the moral responsibility we have to this commitment.

If you watch programmes such as Question Time, read the letters pages of national newspapers or talk to many people it will be easy to find large numbers of people who are opposed to the UK spending money on global aid, with the phrase ‘charity starts at home’ often being used. The UK Government does have a primary responsibility for the safety and security of their citizens, however they also have a significant responsibility to ensuring a fairer, more just, safer, world.

Tanzania: Unprotected Water Source
The poverty in many of the countries that this aid goes to is of a level significantly greater than anything we see in the UK. In Tanzania there are women and children walking several miles to get clean, safe water, and others who have to walk similar distances just to find any source of water. There are women in villages in Uganda giving birth in their homes, built of mud and straw, banana leaves used as a roof. They have no access to health workers and hygienic practices. There are very young children who should be in school herding cows, ploughing fields and collecting water, as their parents can’t afford to send them to school. There are the millions of children who die each year due to diarrhoeal diseases – so easily avoided with simple interventions. Millions relying on the crops they grow in their small plots of land, so when the rains don’t come they are left hungry and without a source of food.

Tanzania: Hand-Drilling for Water
In my own experiences in some of the countries that DFID sends aid to (Tanzania, Rwanda, Uganda), I have seen the need and poverty that people live in – and am overwhelmingly convinced by the need for the UK to spend money on international development programmes. The things we take for granted - education, food, water, toilets, electricity, free health care, social security, and infrastructure - they simply do not always have and cannot take for granted. The look on a community’s face when you meet with them for the first time and tell them that you are going to begin surveying for water and hope to put a water source in their village is remarkable. They are not indignant – “it’s about time” they are overwhelmed with joy and gratitude. They are willing to do everything they can to help, provide food, labour, gather sand and rocks to help make cement, dig through sand, clay and rock.

There will be many questions from this statement today, are we putting money into the right countries, the right sectors and the right organisations? In the midst of those questions it is first and foremost essential to remember that we are doing the right thing in committing to meet our spending targets on international development. Overseas aid is morally right and, as Andrew Mitchell stated today, can work miracles if well targeted and properly spent. The 1p in every £1 from your tax (even less than that!) can be the miracle that a child in Sub-Saharan Africa or Asia has been longing for, can be the thing that changes a woman feeling nothing but fear during her pregnancy – to feeling hope and excitement for the future. It can be the life-saving well that brings clean and safe water to a community for the first time.

Tanzania: Shallow Well