Foreign aid spending debate kicks off
By Timothy Cox
Friday, June 4, 2010
The coalition government has gone on the offensive to defend its decision to increase foreign aid spending. Following Andrew Mitchell’s plans to form an independent aid watchdog to improve transparency and accountability, David Cameron has spoken out in defence of ring-fencing the aid budget by claiming that “our aid will hit the spot”. Unfortunately, the last half century of government to government aid is testament to how difficult getting aid to “hit the spot” actually is. And, while Cameron remains intent upon recycling some much used (and highly misleading) rhetoric, it seems unlikely to change.
Focusing on remedial measures like bed nets and vaccinations for children sounds nice but it fails to address the root causes of these problems. Similarly lauding aid for “miracles” like the eradication of smallpox and the near-eradication of polio is disingenuous. Smallpox was eradicated in the US in the 19th Century, and shortly afterwards in Europe, as a result of effective domestic health systems. There is very little evidence to suggest that aid helps improve domestic health care- indeed a recent study showed it’s diversionary effect may outweigh its “supposed” benefits. Polio eradication was primarily the result of private philanthropy.
The recent development success stories leading to vast improvements in access to healthcare and education in Asia and Africa have not been a result of aid. Rather they are a consequence of domestic government policies which have allowed trade and enterprise to pull people out of poverty at an unprecedented rate. A successful and forward thinking development policy would seek to help the world’s least developed countries implement these policies and ensure that, unlike the aid disaster stories, they do not fall into the trap of aid subsidising bad decisions and perpetuating poverty.