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Reasons to end aid?

Corruption, poor governance, conflict – are these reasons not to give aid to poor countries?

Some commentators argue that they are.

Yet many of the world’s poorest people live in countries with questionable records on human rights and democracy (Zimbabwe, for example).

Or in rapidly developing countries which still have acute inequalities (such as India, home to one third of all of the world’s poor people).

Around 1.5 billion people live in countries that suffer from conflict and fragility, such as Somalia.

Delicate judgements

In situations like this, giving aid is complicated. Telegraph journalist David Blair is absolutely right to say that “delicate case by case judgements” have to be made. Read his article on Zimbabwe here.

But even if the decisions are difficult, we have a duty to act. People should not have to suffer because they happened to be born in the wrong place.

If you asked a Zimbabwean mother whether she would rather the UK withdrew its aid, to persuade the government to reform, or kept on supporting the health services or nutrition programmes she and her children depend on, whilst pushing for reforms from the inside out, can you easily guess what her answer would be?

How should the UK Government manage its aid in these difficult circumstances?

In the first instance, it should provide assistance which supports a country’s own national development aims.

Our aid should help to fill funding gaps and ensure that poor people do not have to suffer because their government has yet to raise enough resources to deliver essential services.

This kind of support should be given only on the condition that the country has a clear strategy for increasing its own resources and becoming less dependent on aid.

There are many examples of countries which have done this, including Ghana, Mozambique or Vietnam. You can read about these success stories in a report by Action Aid: Real Aid: Ending aid dependency.

Where a country is making bad policy choices  – such as not investing enough in its people’s welfare –  then the UK should target aid to support governance reforms and/or increased investment in vital services, for example by supporting health or education budgets.

In Rwanda 20% of the UK’s aid is going to governance and security, with a strong focus upon improving accountability mechanisms for citizens. Supporting ordinary people to voice their concerns and demand change is a vital part of building an effective state.

Where corruption, financial mismanagement, human rights abuses or conflict make it hard for the UK to support the government and use its systems, then aid can be delivered through NGOs to ensure that people in those countries can still receive the basic services their government is unwilling or unable to provide.

And aid can actually help to prevent conflict by reducing competition over resources. For example, building a new well in an area where water is scarce can mean that communities no longer have to travel, queue and even fight for water. Aid to support education can help children grow up with a hope for the future. When mutual trust is built in the classroom, education has the potential to act as a force for peace.

There is never an excuse not to give life-saving aid. It just has to be handled carefully. As the above example demonstrates, when it is, it can have positive effects far beyond its initial intention.


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