Harder, better, faster, stronger – through foreign aid? RAG week has come and gone in St Andrews, and it was, as per usual, a grand success. Last year Charities Campaign raised £20,802.36 for the nominated charities, quite an impressive amount – charitable giving is thriving in St Andrews, and all proceeds are invested both nationally – to Maggie’s and Macmillan Cancer Support – and abroad – Medicins sans Frontiers. Charity work in developing countries is always closely scrutinized, particularly when it comes from large, international organizations, or governments.
In the UK, the Department for International Development (DFID) oversees foreign aid. Following the UN’s Millennium Development Goals, the DFID aims to reduce the number of people living in extreme poverty as well as and ensure primary education for all children. Last June, the DFID’s budget was increased in order to satisfy the government’s commitment to spending 0.7% of GNI (Gross National Income) on Official Development Assistance – resulting in a budget of £10.3bn in 2014/15 and £11.1bn in 2015/16.
Those opposing foreign aid might argue that, in a time of austerity, this money may be better spent domestically. Furthermore, some contend that help from abroad perpetuates a paternalistic or neocolonial relationship between the ‘first’ and ‘third’ world. Other say that foreign aid does not serve to catalyze true development in unindustrialized nations, and only leaves poorer countries dependent on their richer counterparts.
I strongly dispute all three of the above claims. Foreign aid is essential, benefiting both the countries that receive it and those who provide it. Global poverty affects all countries by preventing the development of both financial and human capital. In countries where the population’s survival is threatened, by disease, starvation, or perpetual conflict, services such as education and welfare will be neglected. This neglect, if not remediated, leads to a vicious cycle of underdevelopment that keeps poor people from being able to “help themselves.” Foreign aid is therefore necessary to initiate a process of development that would hopefully lead to future self-sustainability. It is also essential in combatting the effects of Western exploitation: more often than not, governments and companies use poor countries as sites for cheap manufacturing, bankrupting domestic businesses as they hire cheap laborers and funnel the profits back to their home countries.
To a certain degree, be it with the purchase of Nike shoes or a liter of gasoline, everyone contributes to the reinforcement of the oppressive global economic hierarchy. It is important to acknowledge that our comfort is partially based on exploitation of less fortunate people.
Foreign aid is the first step to an all-round richer world. We cannot simply throw money at the problem, however; maintained economic aid should go hand in hand with wider strategies for infrastructural change. The most important means to socioeconomic improvement is education and training, as well as the promise of governmental transparency. Foreign aid is ineffective if it only “gives a man a fish”, or goes into the pockets of corrupt politicians.
Basic health care is fundamental, and big strides have been made thanks to foreign aid. A study by the World Bank has shown that Kenya’s infant mortality rate has dropped significantly in recent years due to the increased usage of anti-malaria bed nets. These were acquired with the help of monetary donations to various non-governmental organizations, and will allow more Kenyan children to grow and help themselves and their nations prosper. The right to an adequate standard of living is a central human right, and if it cannot be ensured by a country’s government, it must be provided by that of another.
Obstacles to the efficacy of foreign aid, such as corruption, mismanagement of funds, or disorganization, can be overcome, and should not discourage philanthropy. Foreign aid needs to be carefully distributed, and supervisory bodies must be in place, but it is by no means wasteful. Aid is not the answer to the global poverty crisis, but its provision – with the implementation of structural change – can make a big difference.