Praise and critique for government on aid-related policies

By staff writers
6 Mar 2011

Opposition to Britain’s commitment to overseas aid fails to reflect the continued resolve of many in the UK to fight global poverty, says Christian UK-based churches' international development, relief and advocacy NGO Christian Aid.

But there was also criticism for elements of the government's policies.

The 1 March 2011 pledge of further aid to India was particularly important given that the subcontinent remains home to more than a third of the world’s poorest 1.2 billion people said the agency.

Christian Aid director Loretta Minghella described the aid budget, unveiled in Parliament by International Development Secretary of State Andrew Mitchell, as a "major stand against the global scandal of poverty."

"A great deal of media attention has focused on whether the UK should continue to provide foreign aid during an economic downturn at home," said Ms Minghella.

"But Christian Aid and other organisations fighting to eradicate poverty know that very large numbers of people here want the UK, as one of the richest countries in the world, to continue to help those struggling with extreme poverty," she continued.

"Christian Aid supporters believe passionately that the continued existence of extreme poverty in a world where so much else has been accomplished is an appalling indictment of our priorities. To merely accept it as a fact of life diminishes us all as human beings." To abandon India at this stage of its development, added Ms Minghella, would be "misguided and extremely short sighted."

"Growth on its own in the developing world is not enough. It is essential, of course, in helping people move out of poverty but it is not of itself a good thing if it is at the expense of the very poor," she declared.

"In India the gap between the better off and 400 million people living in extreme poverty is widening all the time. Most of the very poor are in marginalised communities that have traditionally been excluded from power and decision making. UK aid will help change that," said Ms Minghella.

Continued poverty in a country experiencing record growth was not unique to the subcontinent, the Christian Aid chief said. Twenty years ago, three quarters of those globally living on less than $1 a day – one of the most common definitions of poverty – were to be found in low income countries. Today, 75 per cent of those in extreme poverty live in middle income countries.

Ms Minghella was dismayed, however, that the government’s continued support for the World Bank was not conditional on it improving its poor record on reducing poverty through tackling climate change.

"The World Bank exists to alleviate poverty but it has shown scant regard for the urgent need to combat climate change, the impacts of which hit vulnerable communities in poor countries hardest,’"she said.

"Figures released late last year showed World Bank funding for coal power stations has soared 40-fold over the last five years to hit a record high of $4.4 billion in 2010.

"Bank lending to fossil-fuel power projects significantly exceeds its financing of new renewable energy and energy efficiency projects, which stood at $3.128 billion in 2009, the latest figure available.

"The UK has missed an opportunity to use its contribution to demand real change. Secretary of State Andrew Mitchell is perfectly placed to push for improvement – by dint of his position he has a seat on the board of the Bank."

The House of Commons International Development Committee last week praised Christian Aid for highlighting continued lack of World Bank measures to counter climate change.

In a new report on the Bank it called on Department for International Development (DFID) to "press the Bank’s Board towards using the Bank’s substantial resources to improve the financial viability of renewable energy."

Christian Aid was among groups demonstrating outside World Bank offices in London today demanding that the organisation stopped funding fossil fuel projects. Actions also took place in cities across Europe and in South Africa.

Ms Minghella was also concerned that a government decision to reduce the number of countries receiving aid meant that some of the poorest nations in the world would lose out. "The government has cut the number of countries it will help by 16. Inevitably, there will be a human cost involved," she said.

She queried the thinking behind the government’s decision to put a question mark against future funding for the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) in favour of the World Food Programme (WFP).

"Clearly it is important to fund the World Food Programme, which provides relief in emergencies,’ she said. ‘But we have yet to understand why funding for the FAO, which seeks important structural changes to stop food shortages in the first place, is apparently under threat. DFID must not lose its focus on driving the structural and political changes that will ultimately eradicate poverty.

"This is an area where the government’s welcome focus on results may actually be counterproductive. The most important transformational changes are often the hardest to quantify, initially at least."

Ms Minghella, however, welcomed news that the government was considering how best to drive forward its strategy for women and girls by effective funding of the new UN Women agency. "At heart, poverty is about inequality due to a lack of power, with the most obvious inequality that which is based on gender," she said. "The new agency has vital work to do."

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