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We need to boost infrastructure projects to help lift countries out of poverty

3 min read

Alongside the lifesaving work of UK aid, we can offer technical expertise to develop self-sustainable and growing economies, writes Alok Sharma MP


Education is a weapon that can change the world. That is what 16-year-old Mekdes told me on my first visit to Ethiopia as international development secretary.  Mekdes, along with nine other girls her age, were taught how to code at a summer camp backed by UK aid. In just three weeks, the girls had created new apps that could change Ethiopia’s future. Some of them had never used a computer before.

On that same trip, I visited the border between Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). An area that is on the frontline of an Ebola outbreak that has already claimed 2,000 lives.

UK aid is playing a leading role in preventing the spread of Ebola and working with countries that neighbour the DRC to strengthen regional preparedness for an outbreak. Diseases like Ebola have no respect for borders and are a threat to us all.

Promoting girls’ education and tackling the spread of Ebola are just two areas where this Conservative Government is putting international development at the heart of Britain’s global agenda.

With the prime minister’s leadership, we are determined to make a difference to women and girls around the world through ensuring 12 years of quality education. Through education and economic empowerment, they can determine their own future.

It makes me proud to say that the Conservatives are empowering girls across the world to make changes and fight against the crippling inequality they face every day.

Our 0.7% of gross national income target reflects our status as a world leader – an enterprising, outward-looking, and truly global Britain, fully engaged with the rest of the world.

But if we are truly going to tackle poverty, the UK’s leadership alone is not enough.

The UN estimates that an extra $2.5tn is needed every year to end poverty in developing countries and meet the 17 global goals, which aim to make the world a fairer, healthier, safer and more prosperous place for everyone, everywhere, by 2030.

As international development secretary, I will make sure the UK is leading the world to mobilise private sector funding to plug that gap. As somebody who worked in finance, this is something that I feel particularly passionate about.

That is why I have launched the UK’s International Development Infrastructure Commission.

Infrastructure is the backbone of economic growth. Climate change will hit the poorest countries earliest and hardest, and they will need to strengthen their infrastructure resilience to climate change impacts. We need to turbo-charge investment in green, sustainable infrastructure.

The Infrastructure Commission, comprised of UK and international business leaders, will make recommendations to improve the attractiveness, planning, delivery and financing of infrastructure projects in the developing world.

This in turn will lead to more jobs, better access to basic services like water and electricity, boost opportunities for businesses, and ensure countries we are supporting can be the UK’s trading partners of the future.

This is a huge and urgent challenge. Alongside all the life-changing work UK aid is delivering right now to give the world’s poorest people access to basic human rights like education and medical care, we must also work with those countries to develop self-sustainable and growing economies.

My department’s primary function is to make sure we combat extreme poverty. Economic development is about tackling this in the longer term. Using British technical expertise to break down the barriers created by poor infrastructure, developing economies could achieve so much more.

Securing long-term, sustainable prosperity will help countries to end their reliance on aid and build their trading relationship with the UK.

Alok Sharma is Conservative MP for Reading West and international development secretary

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Read the most recent article written by Alok Sharma MP - We have less than 200 days to make COP26 a success – and save the planet

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