You shouldn’t believe everything you read in the papers, but recent reports of a leaked memo, concerning huge proposed government cuts to aid spending, are a rightful cause for alarm. In the memo, which ministers have been incredibly (and some would argue conspicuously) silent about, DFID’s director of policy suggests that numerous programmes including those relating to polio eradication and primary education in the developing world should be canned. It goes on to outline strategies for dealing with challenges to such moves and suggests targeting those projects which were “unlikely to be noticed.”
If the leak alone wasn’t embarrassing enough for the government, it came just days before Ban Ki Moon called on the world to provide more aid to help those caught up in the apocalyptical humanitarian disaster unfolding in Pakistan.
The UN Secretary General is right of course; governments in the developed world should be doing much more to help deal with what is rapidly turning into one of the worst natural disasters in recent history, but so too should they be doing much more to help all those in poverty across the globe.
The moral case for this is undeniable. Whilst poverty obviously affects those in our own country (as the brilliant Disposed Appeal currently being run by the Evening Standard has so vividly highlighted) this is nowhere near as widespread nor as critical as the many, many states where clean water, basic foodstuffs and even the most rudimentary shelter are all sparse luxuries for literally billions of people.
In addition to this, there is also a strategic argument for increased aid spending. Providing food, medication and the like to people in places such as Somalia, Pakistan and Afghanistan reduces the appeal of extremist groups seeking to recruit their next batch of trainees. After all – why would you wish to harm states such as the UK or USA if they were the ones who provided lifesaving medical care for your HIV infected child or food for your starving wife? This is, of course, a broad simplification but the principle has been demonstrated both positively in cases where aid delivery has been quick and effective; as well as negatively, when militant groups have filled the relief void.
The coalition government’s apparent plans to slash aid spending are therefore politically ludicrous as well as morally bankrupt. They also threaten to rescind the promises in both the Conservative and Liberal Democrat manifestos, that aid spending would be increased to the UN-recommended level of 0.4% (a figure in itself inadequate).
If last week's reports are based on misinterpretations or skewed facts, the government must respond by immediately outlining their spending plans in this area and providing the electorate with guarantees that their promises during the election will be kept. If however, the reporting is accurate, then we must urgently and unequivocally call on our elected representatives to do everything in their power to prevent moves towards reducing aid projects.
Widespread cuts will be tough for everyone; but when it comes to the aid budget they can kill.