To aid or not to aid?

Despite the austerity measures in the UK, the foreign aid budget will soar by upto 37 percent from £6.3billion to £9.4billion this year, according to the DailyMail.
But many are sceptical about if international aid really works.

In a panel discussion “Is International Aid Working”, aid workers and experts demanded for more efficiency and countability in international aid delivery and called for stronger monitoring from non-governmental organisations and the media.

Giles Bolton, former aid worker and author of “Aid and other dirty business”, exposed his disappointment of the international aid business, which led to his quit of his ten-year job as an aid worker.

“I am disappointed by how aid is spent and done,” the now head of ethical trading policy at Tesco said, “The problem—or the scandal—is that aid is not always effective and lots of it is not well-spent.”

“In the US, where aid awareness is not too high, most aid go to Israel or Egypt; and in Europe, money goes to East European countries or North Africa. They are not the poorest countries that need aid,” he said.

He urged governments to build stronger cooperation in aid targeting and aid management.

“Western European countries set up individual aid programs of their own. This is surreal, because it only creates more duplication of aid.” He suggested that governments should “give up the idea of national agencies and focus on building and putting money in a few institutions instead.”

Gideon Rabinowitz, Coordinator of the UK Aid Network (UKAN), agreed and asked for governments to fulfill their promises and commitment to international aid.

“In 2007, only 63% of promised funding from government actually got delivered.” Rabinowitz said, “and in some cases, aid is promised only if it is used to buy food and products from the donor countries.”

The disappointment towards international aid seemed to resonate among the 300 audiences at St. Peter De Beauvoir Church, many of whom are or have been working in the aid industry. But Rabinowitz insisted that aid was still worth it.

“Aid is helping; it has and it is. Aid is worth sticking with and it is, indeed, making a difference,” he said.

According to statistics published by the Global Fund in June last year, 2.3 million people were receiving drugs for Tuberculosis and other diseases; 5.4 million people were receiving treatment and protected from malaria and more importantly, in Sub-Sahara Africa alone, 33 million children were going to school as a result of aid.
However, he also admitted that corruption is a big problem in tackling aid efficiency.

“Corruption exists in these countries and we have to get our hands dirty,” he said, “but the effect that aid has on people is much greater than on corruption and we need to sort out our priority. People should not be punished because of corrupted governments.”

Apart from the governments, Rabinowitz and Bolton also said that the media and NGOs should be responsible and have a bigger role to play in monitoring the aid industry.

“Journalists don’t really know what’s going on abroad. They, especially print journalists, are not interested unless there are tragedies [in remote countries]. Or they are only taken to report the good stories when a charity pays for them to go. So we only hear about when aid is working,” Bolton said.

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