Development aid: hindrance or help?

Sunday 20 October, 3.30pm until 4.45pm, Conservatory Economic solutions?

Western aid to the developing world has been a constant since the 1940s, but justifications for it have varied. After 60 years and $3 trillion of development aid, the poor world remains poor, and aid is increasingly questioned. Even in Norway, which allocates a higher percentage of GDP to development aid than any other country, it is argued that private investment is more beneficial than aid. In the UK, critics question why the aid budget is ring-fenced when other budgets are being cut. Adrian Lovett, director of the anti-poverty movement One, is concerned that money that could be going to Africa is being poured into European bank bailouts. Meanwhile, with many historic aid recipients becoming economic giants, aid can seem very outdated. China has reduced its population in poverty from 452m to 278m; China, Brazil, and South Africa are now aid givers; and the embarrassing controversy about India’s rejection of British aid in 2012 means the UK will no longer provide aid to India from 2015. Many Africans are fed up with seeing their continent presented as a land of too little food, and too much war, disease and corruption. Last year a spoof ‘reverse aid’ Christmas music hit asking Africans to donate radiators to help the freezing children of Norway, got more than two million hits on YouTube.

Despite such scepticism, aid agencies argue development aid and economic growth go hand in hand. Charities have responded to criticism by working increasingly with in-country NGOs, supporting projects identified by them, helping them to become self-sustaining. Is this a progressive development, or is it distracting the countries best brains from focussing on self-determined needs and governance? Are wealthy countries morally obliged to provide aid indefinitely?  Should aid be a government issue at all, or best left to charities? Would leaving development to multinationals and foreign investment mean abandoning the world’s poor to the vagaries of the free market, or would it allow poor countries to reduce poverty and create jobs by growing their own economies? Is aid a safety net for the world’s poor? A vehicle for good governance? Soft-power foreign policy? Or does it just make us in the West feel better about ourselves?


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Jamie Drummond
co-founder and executive director, ONE

Jonathan Foreman
senior research fellow, Civitas; trustee, Hindu Kush Conversation Assocation; co-editor, The Indian Quarterly

Para Mullan
senior project manager, Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development; FCIPD

Ben Phillips
campaigns and policy director, Oxfam GB

Bríd Hehir
writer, researcher and traveller; retired nurse and fundraiser

Produced by
Bríd Hehir writer, researcher and traveller; retired nurse and fundraiser
Para Mullan senior project manager, Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development; FCIPD
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