International aid can – and does – make a difference.
That’s the verdict from international development charities recently in the wake of a generally positive United Nations update on progress toward the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).
The report suggests the aim of halving the number of the world’s poor between 1990 and 2015 remains on track.
There are a number of reasons for the progress, such as the increased wealth in India and China. International aid is also an important factor in the improvements, said Laura Webster, head of public policy at international development charity Tearfund.
But in recent months the United Kingdom government has faced much criticism for sticking to the plan of spending 0.7 percent of its national income on foreign aid in the current climate of austerity measures.
Prime Minister David Cameron accused critics of his foreign aid policy as being “possibly hard-hearted.”
Last year, a poll by the Local Government Association revealed that overseas aid would be among the public’s top priorities for spending cuts, according to an article in the July 9, 2010, issue of The Baptist Times.
But Webster said the perception was often different to the reality. “People often think that we are spending 10 percent of national income on aid. The fact is that even the 0.7 percent figure is a target – the actual amount is less than half a penny in every pound.”
Moreover, it works, she said.
“I think the accusations that international aid is often wasted are unfair,” she told The Baptist Times.
“There are occasions when it does get into the wrong hands and these are rightly highlighted, but much of the good things it does have a much lower profile. The coverage it gets doesn’t do it justice,” Webster said.
“Targeted aid to the right people on the ground can make and is making a difference,” she said. “Although some places are getting left behind, it’s great to see that overall there is progress in areas such as more children getting educated.”
The appeal also met some disapproval with suggestions that aid agencies were “crying wolf” and hyping up the drought in the region.
The Times’ Africa correspondent Jonathan Clayton said the real reason for the famine was war, not drought.
DEC, the umbrella body representing 14 of the U.K.’s aid agencies including Christian Aid, Tearfund and World Vision, moved to “explicitly” reject the suggestion that they were exaggerating the situation.
“The accusation that aid agencies are crying wolf when we try to raise the alarm early enough to avert a major catastrophe has become wholly predictable,” said DEC chief executive Brendan Gormley. “We accept the need to present our evidence and justify our conclusions. All we ask is the opportunity to do so.”
Gormley added that DEC member agencies recognize that long-term solutions are needed to address the underlying vulnerability of many livestock farmers in the horn of Africa “and in many cases they are working to try to deliver these changes.”
However, he continued, “we are now facing a critical situation which could spiral out of control unless funds are received to support emergency operations.”