The new year has started where the old left off, with a media spotlight on the shortcomings of overseas aid. As 2013 is set to be the year when the UK finally reaches the hallowed 0.7% target (see Graham’s posting below), DFID is rightly coming under pressure from left and right to explain why handing over billions of pounds to multinationals, multilaterals and consultants is a good use of taxpayers’ money. This week’s Spectator weighs in with a front cover devoted to ‘the aid delusion’; while the articles in the magazine itself are pretty vacuous, the international development sector needs to accept that the issue is a real one that goes well beyond ‘improving the effectiveness of aid’.
If we are serious about the struggle for global justice, we need to acknowledge that aid does not bring development in any meaningful sense. Aid may ‘save lives’ (the standard formulation which aid agencies fall back on most regularly) and relieve suffering, but it does not address the structural factors that condemn generation after generation to poverty, which is surely what we as a sector are supposed to do. As Sunday’s Radio 4 piece Inside the Aid Industry noted, the Nairobi slum of Kibera has had 800 aid agencies working within its two square miles for years, and yet still has no running water or electricity. Charles Abugre, now heading up the UN Millennium Campaign in Africa, spoke of the need for political challenge to bring lasting change, and called on NGOs to make that their priority. “Ultimately,” as he concluded, “you can’t eradicate poverty through aid.”