Lord Harries: We must give more aid to NGOs best placed to tackle extreme poverty and help the most vulnerable
Huge amounts of UK humanitarian aid has been spent strengthening democracy, but this cannot be done at the expense of tackling extreme poverty and helping the world’s most vulnerable, writes Lord Harries.
A recent delegation to Pakistan visited a community where they saw worse poverty and misery than they had experienced almost anywhere else in the world. Somehow this community, which is discriminated against in a number of ways, religious and on grounds of Caste, had missed out on the £463 million of aid received by Pakistan.
In recent years some newspapers have been running campaigns against the amount we spend on foreign aid. I am a firm supporter and believe that we should be proud of what this country contributes, but we need to ensure that the public understands and supports where aid is targeted. They want to be confident that it is directed to the most vulnerable. We know people support emergency relief after disasters, and add substantial private contributions to government ones. This humanitarian aid amounts to about 15% of the budget.
Long term aid is also important and of course some of this will go into administration and research through multilateral organisations. But we are surely right to ask questions about the priorities for some aid. In Nigeria for example the largest amount of aid was spent recently strengthening democracy, and the effectiveness of this is measured by the number who vote. I am a passionate supporter of democracy, but does it really deserve this degree of priority in a country so bedevilled by endemic corruption and what difference will it make in the short term to the most deprived. Contrast that with the fact that 100 million Nigerians still lack basic sanitation facilities and 63 million do not have access to improved source of drinking water.
The four aims of aid as set out by the government are: strengthening global peace, security and governance; strengthening resilience and response to crises; promoting global prosperity; tackling extreme poverty and helping the world’s most vulnerable.
At the moment priority is being given to the first. No one doubts that this is crucial. It is insecurity, war and bad governance which are at the root of so many of the world’s problems. But addressing these issues is the prime responsibility of Government Foreign Policy. It should not be done at the expense of the fourth named priority, tackling extreme poverty and helping the world’s most vulnerable.
At the moment 17.3% of aid is channelled through NGOs. I believe that NGOs are often in the best position to use aid effectively, especially small ones. They work on the ground. They work only with the full co-operation of the local community, and they seek to build the capacity of that community to solve their own problems.
In my experience it is small scale operations that have seemed most effective, and these depend on local leadership, and that leadership now in so many parts of the world is given by women, sometimes quite young woman. In Brazil for example I have seen a community of rural landless people led by a young woman. In India I have seen women in the slums of Mumbai setting up small businesses. Such examples can be multiplied thousands of time. In this business I believe small is beautiful. I would like to see more aid channelled to smaller, specialist NGOs. They are the ones in touch with the most vulnerable.
Lord Harries of Pentregarth is a Crossbench Member of the House of Lords.