tisdag 23 augusti 2016

The sacred cow of third-world aid

Aditya Chakrabortty, who often writes perceptively, has gone off the rails with his piece today (closed to comments) on the threat to Britain's foreign aid budget posed by the new Conservative minister responsible, Priti Patel, who, he says is about to trash "our proud record on aid".

The fallacy behind this aid is the concept of "world poverty". The world is not poor. There is enough for everyone. Poverty itself is a world-wide phenomenon. There are poor people in rich countries too. Not only are they are the ones to bear the brunt of the taxation which pays for the third world aid; the tax system in the "rich countries" is the prime cause of their poverty.

There are also rich people in the "poor" countries. These are the owning classes. A handful of families own almost the whole of Pakistan. Concentration of land ownership remains an issue in much of Central and South America. In the nature of things, the benefits of the aid flow into their pockets. So we have the poor in the rich countries helping to swell the bank accounts of the rich in the poor countries, whilst little ends up with the intended beneficiaries, who at best are a privileged few.

I am not saying that there should not be aid, but it is probably better if it does  not come from government but is funded voluntarily and the projects run by charities. Cafod and some of the Quaker organisations have quite a good record of achieving worthwhile small-scale interventions on the ground, such as bringing clean water to people who previously had no access to it.

Behind that, however, is another question - why is anyone at all living in places where they have to make a long trek to fetch water?

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