Urgent calls for aid meet new challenges to its merits

Emile Hokayem, Political Editor
Last Updated: July 14. 2009 9:14PM UAE / July 14. 2009 5:14PM GMT

Armed with ambitious and well-meaning slogans like “make poverty history”, heads of state, CEOs and pop stars have mobilised a global campaign to promote sustainable development and reduce economic and social inequalities in the hope of lifting two billion individuals from absolute poverty. As defined by the UN, absolute poverty is “a condition characterised by severe deprivation of basic human needs, including food, safe drinking water, sanitation facilities, health, shelter, education and information.” That nearly two billion people live in such conditions has shaken consciences around the world, prompting the UN to articulate its Millennium Development Goals, a comprehensive set of measures from debt reduction to improving access to health care. Rich nations are being urged to dedicate 0.7 per cent of their GDP to development assistance, a target still not met by most developed nations. But many of them appear to be responding to the call. Just last week, the G8 made a $20 billion pledge to secure food supplies and promote agriculture in developing nations suffering from rising food prices, a drop in food stocks and environmental factors threatening to diminish it further. This food crisis, combined with the global economic downturn, has reversed many of the gains made since the 1990s. The US House of Representatives just approved a massive $49 billion foreign aid bill that will allow the US State Department and its aid auxiliaries to fund overseas programmes. In the mixed legacy of George W Bush, the President’s Emergency Plan For Aids Relief (Pepfar) stands out as a rare success. The initiative has been extended to 2013 – including $48 billion in aid – and expanded to include the fight against malaria and tuberculosis. European governments, with long historical ties to their former colonies, have also made new commitments. Much of this momentum comes from superstars like the rock star Bono, who have allied themselves with academics such as Columbia University’s Jeffrey Sachs and African icons like Nelson Mandela to push for aid. Celebrity diplomacy has had an

Second. China and India have pulled significant chunks of their population from poverty by adopting free market practices. the provocative title of her controversial book). from both donor countries and recipient states. argue that aid seldom reaches its intended recipients. . now argue that foreign aid is often an impediment rather than a catalyst for development. western governments see foreign aid as an extension of their foreign policy. They particularly fault top-down initiatives that stifle entrepreneurship and create bloated bureaucracies. But their most radical recommendation is an end to foreign aid for African states within five years. Still. An increasing number of economists and critics of all stripes. distorts local economies. This perspective may be counterintuitive. promoting entrepreneurship and embracing globalisation. And it’s also difficult to dismiss the notion that aid is inherently paternalistic and ignores Africa’s organic potential. Dambisa Moyo. In places like Afghanistan or Iraq. and creates the wrong incentives. But a profound critique of the merits and effectiveness of foreign aid as it is currently conducted has also emerged. Many critics of foreign aid argue that it has breed dependency. One cannot expect recipient governments to suddenly reject aid and cut off a lifeline. liberalising trade and encouraging bottom-up initiatives. but it has both freshness and some factual support at its side. Foreign aid is often regarded as a by-product of guilt for the centuries of colonialism and exploitation that made the West’s economic success possible. The UK has imposed a separation between its foreign office and its department for international development but most other countries haven’t. certain programmes aimed at specific outcomes have been successful. the need to redress historical torts should not come at the expense of the more urgent imperative to help the poor. Both Mr Easterly and Ms Moyo (who refers to it as “dead aid”. helping to explain why large swathes of Africa lag behind many of the Asian nations that have joined the developing world but shared comparable conditions and income levels just 60 years ago. not by relying on foreign aid.incomparable way of forcing poverty reduction onto the international agenda even as economic conditions have made rich countries flirt with protectionism and spending cuts. and instead advocate greater support for the private sector. Aid also brings prestige. are the main proponents of this argument. Doing away with foreign aid is impossible for western governments to stomach. so cutting funding for Aids relief makes little sense. it is also an essential element of post-conflict stabilisation. The plain reality is that countries like South Korea. corruption and lethargy. To start with. influence and reach. The New York University economist William Easterly and a Wall Street banker of Zambian origin.

When the president of Madagascar was ousted by a coup earlier this year. the MCC cut its programmes there. China is the ultimate example: it supports its economic inroads in Africa with aid but its focus is more on the acquiescence of governments.ae Have your say Please log in to post a comment . it is possibly the most crucial one that the world faces. but with so many lives and livelihoods at stake. doing so erodes their leverage and generates little return for everyone.As governments toy with new aid formulas. ehokayem@thenational. an organisation that distributes aid based on a set of political and economic criteria. not-so-altruistic motivations in mind. since in their view. Much is uncertain about the debate over foreign aid. The Gulf states are another new player. Such strict conditions may be a response to western taxpayers suffering from “compassion fatigue” and also to certain constituencies in recipient nations demanding that aid not shore up ineffective or authoritarian regimes. another example set by the Bush administration may be it’s creation of the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC). not necessarily on helping their people. with large aid budgets and motives ranging from dawa to securing food supplies and other political interests. Both China and the Gulf states have shown little interest in UN-co-ordinated multilateral aid. Powerful new distributors of foreign aid that carry none of the historical baggage of the West but have their own. present their own challenges.

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