Helping underdeveloped counties is promoted as a righteous mission for all developed societies, so how come despite giving so much so little has changed for the people in the Third World? 

 

It has long been thought that our efforts to create a stable, more sustainable world have been paramount to the economic and political success of Third World countries and developing communities.

Perhaps for the first time, we are now coming to the slow realisation that far more needs to be done to achieve political equality and opportunity in nations across the globe. Our idea of ‘the perfect nation’, in our eyes, lies in democracy and freedom, the ability to remain self-sufficient, to be an essential cog in the wheels of societal productivity and prosperity. Despite years of development and improvement, we still have a long way to go to reap the full benefits of the new and lucrative systems we are attempting to establish on a global scale.

It’s perhaps a harsh reality that both the amount of international assistance and the calibre of said assistance need constant re-evaluating. According to recent studies, our good intentions are often wasted on government administrative costs and other corrupt governing bodies — the nations we are meant to be helping are indeed being held accountable for the actions of powerful organisations responsible for this aid. Unfortunately even ‘major donors’ often argue that donations, however large or small, are investments, not gifts, using their donations to self-identify as ‘social entrepreneurs’. Even now, one of the most important aspects of international development, from an outsider’s point of view, is the constant and unwavering support of fundraisers. It is widely known that people would rather not give money to expose and engage new potential benefactors. Any sensible donor would like to think that 100 per cent of their contribution goes directly to the cause itself, paying for food and water, education for children or the prevention of cruelty. Undoubtedly there is a percentage that does go straight to where the need is — but the question lies in exactly how much is genuinely used for the purposes for which the donation is advertised?

Despite the idea that every wealthy nation has been set an obligation of 0.7 per cent towards international aid and development, incriminating evidence suggests that almost every state has consistently failed to reach their targets. Contrary to their claims, the aid released to the countries or individuals that need it has been around 0.2 to 0.4 per cent; that’s around 150 billion US dollars short.

Pekka Hirvonen, from the Global Policy Forum, summarizes these surprising claims:

Recent increases in foreign aid do not tell the whole truth about rich countries’ generosity, or the lack thereof. Measured as a proportion of gross national income (GNI), aid lags far behind the 0.7% target the United Nations set 35 years ago. In many cases, aid is primarily designed to serve the strategic and economic interests of the donor countries, or to benefit powerful domestic interest groups. The systems are based on the interests of donors instead of the needs of the recipients, which furthermore makes development assistance ineffective. To conclude, all too often aid is wasted on overpriced goods and services from donor countries’.

Further to these claims, Christian Aid reported that sub-Saharan Africa receives a total of 272 billion US dollars less than other nations because of ‘free’ trade policies; these are forced on Africans as a prerequisite of the aid and debt relief they receive. This means that whilst imports have grown substantially, exports did not rise at the same level. Despite countless reforms, the state of African society remains largely invariable, and there is not enough coverage by organisations to prevent this.

Like anything else that is important, the meaning and approach to aid is constantly changing. It has shifted every decade to cover a different level of problems. In the ‘50s, it was physical infrastructure and technical skills; in the ‘60s, it was the savings and investment gaps; in the ‘70s, meeting basic needs; in the ‘80s, the productive sector; in the ‘90s, governance, human rights and development; and today, assistance is targeted at the achievement of key Development Goals.

One of the biggest challenges to the provision of foreign aid is the level of climate change. Adapting to environmental changes remains a key issue in the development of underprivileged and unstable communities. It creates new issues and threats on all areas of development; health concerns and the risk of violent conflict in historically sensitive and volatile countries are, by degrees, correlative to the threat of environmental change. Is this something we can control? By adapting our ecological policies, perhaps on some level we can keep these risks at bay; but it’s doubtful we will ever have full control over it.

To sum up, there are four key points to make on what all this means for the Department for International Development:

  1. We need to refocus our efforts on the poor and disadvantaged, not just poor countries as a whole
  2. DFID has a greater need for employees and volunteers than the provision of cash allows
  3. The main issues of cultural resilience and vulnerability need to be addressed in more detail
  4. Our main focus needs to lie in the development of communities on an international level, rather than concentrating primarily on individual poor countries

So, the question still begs an answer: can we indeed save the world?