Transparency: putting G8 to the test

It’s become a slightly tired cliché to say that sunlight is the best disinfectant.  But there is no question that transparency – about what payments are being made to governments, and then how that money is being spent – is vital for development. Giving citizens knowledge about key financial decisions being made in their countries empowers them to get involved in the debate about whether companies are paying the right taxes or fees, and about how much of it should be spent on schools, hospitals, and other issues close to their hearts – helping to wash away the stain of corruption.

It is great that David Cameron has made this a high priority at this year’s G8 Summit – no doubt responding to the public outcry about tax dodging in the UK, as well as out of a desire to tackle poverty around the world. And there has been lots of encouraging progress so far. But, what will be the acid tests of his success when the G8 communique is published tomorrow?  There are a couple of things that we’ll be keeping a keen eye on:

1. Will Japan and Russia agree to make oil, gas and mining companies publish what they pay?

Recent months have seen big strides forward in improving transparency in the oil, gas and mining sectors. With the Dodd Frank legislation in the USA, the EU legislation passed last week, and Canada’s recent announcement that they will follow suit, all companies listed on their stock exchanges (around two thirds of the global trade) will soon need to publish what they pay to government to access their mineral wealth.

These efforts to unearth the truth have been hugely encouraging. But, as businesses such as Rio Tinto have noted, we don’t yet have a level playing field, and companies not listed in these countries, but in places like Russia and Japan, don’t yet need to publish their payments. Cameron has said he will prioritise this in G8 discussions so that momentum can then build in the G20 and beyond, so there is no place where companies can hide their payments. Let’s hope he delivers.

2. Will all G8 members agree to share tax information with developing countries as well as each other? And will they create public registries of the “real” owners of all companies?Image

On Saturday at Cameron’s trade, tax and transparency Summit all of the UK-linked tax havens agreed to join an existing multilateral agreement to share tax information. And the Prime Minister announced that the UK would create a central registry of company ownership. Again, these are really encouraging steps. But we need other G8 countries to agree to increase their transparency too and automatically share tax information – not just with each other, but also with developing countries. And we need more G8 countries to commit to create a public register of the “real” owners of all companies in their countries to help stop tax dodging (see the full IF response here)

 Cameron obviously has a lot to talk to Putin and other leaders about – not least trying to find a way forward on tackling the horrendous situation in Syria. But ensuring increasing transparency in these key areas could have a massive and life-changing impact in many poor communities. Something he shouldn’t forget as he enjoys the canapés this evening.

Advertisements

2013: The year we must speak out to tackle hunger at home as well as overseas

Hunger is one of the most visible signs of poverty.  A child’s bloated belly or a grandfather’s withered arm are images which we too often see on the TV in a time of crisis and which stay with us for years to come.  Tackling hunger is very much part of Tearfund’s business. We were set up in 1968 by UK churches who wanted to respond to the severe famine  West Africa, and have provided emergency food supplies in countless crises since then.  We also work alongside many churches around the world as they mobilise communities to find their own, more long term solutions to improve their food security and health, from sustainable farming to hygiene promotion, to speaking out against land grabs.

MDG : IF campaign against hunger and enough food for everyoneBut, in a world where there is enough food for everyone, it is outrageous that one in eight people go to bed hungry every night. It is vital that the root causes of hunger are tackled which is why the IF campaign, which Tearfund is part of, is so important. Ahead of the G8 we are calling on leaders to fight land grabs, tax dodging and corruption and to ensure that promises of aid and climate finance are delivered and spent well. Thousands of our supporters have been joining this call for real change.

But it hasn’t escaped my notice that, as well as being the year where leaders can make decisions which will help to end extreme hunger around the world, 2013 may also be a year remembered for alarming increases in hunger in the UK.  Reports of children returning to school malnourished due to the lack of free lunches over the holidays have really shocked us. As steady work becomes more difficult to find and delays and cuts in the provision of emergency assistance in our own country increase, the press have noticed that many churches have been stepping into the breach here as well as overseas.

Tearfund hosted a meeting in Parliament today and were joined by the Trussell Trust, the Christian charity who are behind many of the food banks which have been springing up across the country. Their aim is to step into the breach if  a trussellfamily hits a crisis and to provide a limited supply of food, provided by local people and businesses free of charge, until appropriate state or alternative provision can be arranged. As times get tougher, the numbers needing this kind of help are steadily increasing and their volunteers are doing amazing work.

Of course, as we know from our experience overseas, emergency aid like this is a vital sticking plaster, but inadequate on its own. Foodbanks are a crucial last port of call but can’t provide a sustainable solution for families or act as a replacement for the state. What is clear is that, in the UK as well as overseas, the church needs to go beyond emergency relief to build longer term resilience and to tackle the root causes of hunger – and in many cases it is.

Other organisations, like Christians Against Poverty (who I’m proud to say Tearfund helped to birth), provide debt counselling, and the Lighthouse Group, who Tearfund also partners with, are mentoring and counselling kids at risk of being excluded from school.  These kind of initiatives help to people to take control of their own situation before crisis point is reached, to manage their resources and to develop skills which should equip them well for the long term and ensure that meals are not missed.

And churches and NGOs in the UK are also engaging with policy makers – from local authorities to the Prime Minister – to hold leaders to account for the way that they deal with those in most need. In Parliament today, Chris Mould, the Executive Chairman of Trussell Trust, quoted the prophet Jeremiah to remind the MPs and Lords there that their responsibility should be to defend the cause of the poor and the needy. He explained that many of the people who arrive in food banks are there because the wages they are earning are too low to support the whole family, or because they have fallen through a bureaucratic gap.  There are policy changes that they could work for which could improve this situation.

The church and many others in society are doing great work, but let’s not rest on our laurels. While people are hungry we need to continue to meet their immediate needs, empower them to feed themselves and to work with them to tackle the injustices which keep them hungry. Let’s make 2013 a year to remember for the right reasons.

Was Cameron’s announcement on aid to MoD politically astute?

Image

PM official picture from Number 10 website

I may regret saying this. As the saying goes, the devil is always in the detail. However, I can’t help wondering if today’s “announcement” by Cameron that some more of the aid budget should be spent by the Ministry of Defence might not be such a bad thing.

– Firstly, some aid spend already goes through the MoD and the Independent reports that only around £100m additional money year is being considered.  An amount that can obviously make a big impact providing health, education or water projects. But, actually, not a big percentage of the overall £11 billion aid budget.

-Secondly, he said that spend would be in line with international OECD guidelines, which are reasonably strict on what does and doesn’t count as aid. So while spend on new weapons would be wrong, my understanding is that wouldn’t count. While, say, more support for peacekeeping in DRC, for example, could be a good thing.

– And thirdly, lets face it, Cameron has an uphill struggle to get his own party behind 0.7% commitment. If announcements like this – which perhaps initially sound worse than they really are – help, then maybe it’s a good political call, and the criticism which follows could be part of his political calculation.

That’s not to say I don’t have any concerns. It is going to be hugely important for all of us with an interest – media, charities, the International Development Select Committee and the Independent Commission on Aid Impact –  to keep an eye on what the Government (not just DFID, but MOD, Department for Energy and Climate Change, Foreign Office etc) are spending aid on to make sure it really is in line with the law and is actually reducing poverty.  To give another example, we’ve also recently been worried by £110m of aid classified as climate finance going to a private equity firms for investments which we aren’t sure will go to the countries that need them most.

But, I’m reasonably hopeful we have the mechanisms we need to raise the alarm when concerns are raised and we just need to make sure that we use them. Whilst it’s vital that the #IF campaign keeps up the pressure to make sure that the Chancellor meets the 0.7% commitment, it will also be extremely important that pressure continues after the announcement is made, to ensure that the money is being spent legitimately and is really transforming poor communities.

It would also be wrong to imply that only aid spent by MOD can help promote stability. We know that investment in education, agriculture and in tackling corruption can help build stable societies and promote peace.  But my biggest concern about the announcement is that the MOD may be asked to deliver aid projects rather than just peace keeping. Attempts by military in Afghanistan to “win hearts and minds” by building schools and delivery other community projects were widely criticised for being bad development (no community ownership, badly designed etc) and for putting lives of aid workers at risk by blurring distinctions between humanitarian and military assistance.

A political announcement to gain short term support is one thing, but using aid in a way which is dangerous, doesn’t help the people who need it most or which is against international laws, will just undermine the case for aid. We know that aid can work, does save lives and that the UK Government can have a massive impact by reaching 0.7%. But this is a reminder that campaigning on aid can’t stop when we meet that target, but should be an ongoing – and constructive – dialogue with government.

We must break out of this “Groundhog Day” debate on aid

Image

UK Parliament – home of the International Development Select Committee

Contrary to today’s Daily Mail headline, the International Development Select Committee did not actually call for the target of spending 0.7% of aid to be scrapped.  In their response to DFID’s annual report, the Select Committee did argue that the quality of aid spending is more important than the overall quantity. And of course this is true. The last thing that anyone in the development community wants is for a spending target to result in aid being wasted.

But we also know that the 0.7% commitment isn’t just an arbitrary target, but is a promise that has been made to poor communities around the world for many years and which cannot be dismissed lightly. We have a moral responsibility to act which should not be lost in technocratic arguments.

As Tearfund’s CEO wrote in the Huffington Post, we shouldn’t allow the Daily Mail and others to force us into a debate around whether or not to cut the aid target.  We have the privilege of seeing everyday the huge and transformational impact that aid – from both governments and NGOs – has all around the world.  DFID’s own report says that in the last 2 years they have paid for 12 million children to be vaccinated and provided 6 million people with emergency food aid. The International Development Committee don’t question these facts and personally, I can’t think of many better things to spend less than 0.7% of our country’s income on.

But we also can’t just be aid apologists. We know that aid – like all areas of public spending – isn’t always used as effectively as it could be. It is right that we have grown up conversations how best to spend the money, what we’re learning and how to have the biggest impact possible. But to always tie these conversations to the issue of whether to spend the money traps us in a “groundhog day” style debate.

The report criticises the significant increase in DFID money going through multilaterals as they “have high cost and sometimes limited effectiveness” and stresses that DFID bureaucracy shouldn’t prevent them from working with effective local NGOs. At Tearfund, we’re passionate about the brilliant projects that our local partners are doing – from supporting sustainable farming in Malawi and Zimbabwe to holding local government officials to account in India and, it’s great when additional resources from DFID increase their impact.

But we shouldn’t just write off multilateral aid as a legitimate way of spending money as it’s often easier for a developing country government to deal with one multilateral donor than several uncoordinated national donors, and costs accrued there may actually save costs (DFID head count, government staff time in developing countries etc). This kind of debate about the right balance of organisations that aid goes to is the kind I’d describe as helpful.

The report also raises good points about the clarity DFID needs to provide as to which countries it is and isn’t working on, and the need for enough DFID staff to manage the money Imagewell. Again, good points. But these points cannot be excuses for not meeting the 0.7% target.  The promise was initially made 40 years ago and was recommitted to by the UK Government in 2005 and 2010 so there is absolutely no excuse for not having planned for it properly.  As part of the IF campaign we will be doing all that we can to make sure that the Chancellor sticks to the 0.7% target when he makes his budget statement in March because this is the least we owe to the 1 in 8 people around the world who go to bed hungry every night.  While legitimate debates about how we use this money will and should continue, this promise is just too important to delay any longer.

Enough food for everyone…IF. The changes the campaign is calling for

Image

I’m incredibly excited by the number of organisations (102 at last count) that have come together to launch the IF campaign today. It is an undeniable scandal that while the world produces enough food for everyone, 1 in 8 people go to bed hungry every night.  

Of course, fixing a broken food system is no easy task and it would be wrong to over-simplify. But those working on the campaign have developed what I believe is a compelling narrative of the big changes which are not only vital but are also politically achievable in 2013, to mark this year out as the year that saw the beginning of the end of world hunger. So, what are we calling for?

1. Investment

This is not about seeking new pledges, but about making sure that world leaders – including in the UK – stick to the promises they have already made.  In the UK this would mean Chancellor George Osborne using his budget statement in March to confirm that the UK has finally met it’s promise to spend 0.7% of national income – less than a penny in the pound – on aid. It would also mean Energy and Climate Change Secretary Ed Davey, and others, showing real leadership to make sure that the new sources of cash promised to help farmers in developing countries adapt to climate change are actually delivered.  There’s a neat little animation showing why we think a new shipping fuel levy could be one way to do this.

And we have to make sure that more of this money is invested in helping poor farmers to grow more and to tackle malnutrition – something that the G8 leaders could easily commit to when they meet in the UK in June.

2. Tax

Of course aid on its own is never going to be enough to get to the heart of the problem. We really want to tackle the root causes too. We want to stop tax dodging by multinational companies, so they pay more tax in poor countries where they operate and poor countries’ governments can spend it on tackling poverty. The Prime Minister has already said that he wants the G8 to discuss tax this year, but we want to make sure that the commitments they make are ambitious and are put into action. Specifically, we’re calling for a new Convention on Tax Transparency, and we’re calling for tighter rules in the UK too. 

3. Land

Image

A farmer in Nepal

An area of land the size of London is being sold off or leased out in developing countries everyday.  While private investment in these countries can obviously be a good thing, if these deals aren’t done in the right way they can force poorer farmers off their land and push them into poverty. Biofuel targets have set up the wrong incentives and in some places are making this problem worse. We’re calling on the G8 to make a new agreement to make sure that these deals are managed better and more transparently, for the World Bank to halt investment in these deals until the consequences have been properly assessed, and for the UN guidelines on land tenure to be implemented across the board.

4. Transparency

People like you and I, all around the world, need to know that governments and companies are up to so that they can hold them to account.  As Tearfund we’ve recently been calling on laws for oil, gas and mining companies to publish what they pay to governments so that ordinary people can follow the money and make sure it’s spent on tackling poverty as the churches we work with around the world have told us that this would make a real difference. We’re calling on the G8 to go further and to increase transparency in more sectors, and to encourage more governments to put details of their tax income and their budgets out in the open. Again, David Cameron has indicated he is up for this but, as always, the devil is in the detail. 

IF we see real progress in these areas, we’re not pretending we will see an end to hunger overnight. But it will help us to move beyond the public debate on whether giving aid is a good or bad thing and get a good debate going on what the role of the UK is in tackling the root causes of hunger and could make 2013 the year where the tide started to turn. 

There is a full report which sets out these asks in more detail and has case studies of what these changes would mean in practice. Well worth dipping in if you get a moment. We’ll be blogging on these issues over the course of the next few months and there will be plenty of ways for people to get involved.  Bring it on….

What will be the development “buzz words” of 2013?

Apart from being the year of the wonderful London Olympics, 2012 has been the year of the doughnut and sustainable development goals; land grabs and tax dodgers; debate about whether we should give aid to India or to Rwanda; and a new focus on inequality – in the international development NGO bubble, at least.

We didn’t get legislation on 0.7%, or any real progress at the UN climate talks in Doha.  But we did get a Number 10 High Level Meeting on Hunger and a new focus from David Cameron on the “golden thread” of development – whatever that actually means. We’ve been talking about the scourge of hunger and a need for investment in agriculture overseas, at the same time seeing alarming demand for food banks here in the UK.

Image

Justine Greening MP (picture from DFID website)

We have had a new Secretary of State for International Development here in the UK in the form of Justine Greening, an EU in economic crisis and a re-elected US President who we’re all willing to do something a bit more radical on climate and development – but we’re not holding our breath.

So, it’s that time of year where we look forward to what we might be talking about in 2013.  Here’s my best guess, which is obviously bound to look horribly out of date by around April…

1. Transparency

In his Wall Street Journal article, David Cameron set out why he feels transparency has such an important role to play in development. Our partners in Tanzania, carrying out public expenditure projects to ensure that schools and clinics get the funding they need, couldn’t agree more. The UK is chair of the G8 and of the Open Government Partnership in 2013 and is in a strong position to drive forward initiatives that can increase transparency, both in how governments raise money (particularly tax payments and money for natural resources) and how they spend it – with more open budgets. The EU are also in the final stage of debating the expected legislation to make oil, gas and mining companies publish what they pay to governments, which is something Tearfund has been campaigning for and which should really help communities to track how the money is spent.

2013 could be a really good year for transparency. But transparency should not be seen as a panacea.  Making financial information public is a great start, but it needs to be in a format which is easily accessed and understood by local communities.  Capacity has to be built so that people can digest it and then speak out.  And a free press and accountable governance structures are vital.  Tearfund will be working with our partners on new research on how best to build on transparency to bring about lasting change over the next year.

2. Planetary Boundaries

ImageThe global climate change talks have all but ground to a halt.  There is a fundamental disagreement about how to balance the cost of putting development on a more sustainable footing – between developed nations who are responsible for nearly all carbon emissions historically, or the rapidly developing middle income countries whose future carbon emissions could be substantial. And carbon is but one of 9 planetary boundaries which have already been breached or are likely to be soon.

Oxfam have done a brilliant job of bringing life to the science behind this concept and of making it relevant to the international development debate. And Alex Evans has written about the importance of bringing this thinking into the debate on the new framework for development which will succeed the Millennium Development Goals (and should bring in the new sustainable development goals).  I’m confident that this issue will continue to rise up the development agenda given it’s urgency and because – as the poorest communities are affected first and most deeply when the environment deteriorates – it is fundamentally about justice. We need to continue to work together to re-frame the climate change debate and to build a public mandate for truly sustainable development across the globe.

3. Predistribution

A bit left-field here, but predistribution is an idea initially put forward by US academic Jacob Hacker but gaining popularity with the centre-Left in the UK and elsewhere.  Basically it is the idea that the state should try to prevent inequalities occurring in the first place rather than trying to reduce them through the tax and benefits system. In the UK it is an idea that has become quite strongly linked to the living wage campaign.

But to me, predistribution is the essence of what the development debate should be about. Rather than squabbling about a minimal aid budget, we should be focused on tackling the root causes of inequality – both between and within nations. And of course, that is what many NGO campaigns are about.  But we still need to make that idea more popular and palatable – and I suppose wonk words like predistribution may not help that cause! But it could give these ideas more political saliency, at least in some quarters.

So, those are my thoughts, but what do you think?  What are the obvious things missing from this list?

Can Cameron practice what he preaches on international development?

In yesterday’s Wall Street Journal David Cameron set out his views on the role that Britain can play in tackling the root causes of poverty.  It was a clear and compelling piece and, in my opinion, there is much to celebrate.

He is right that 0.7% aid commitment is vital for both saving lives in emergencies and for investing in the future through better schools, hospitals, roads and the like.  But he is also right that aid on its own will never be enough – and should not be portrayed as such. He argues that the UK, from a position of leadership provided by having met our 0.7% target (presuming that we do actually meet it when next year’s Budget is announced), should help the world to move beyond aid and to tackle some of the root causes of poverty – and I couldn’t agree more.  But what does that actually mean?

Cameron is fond of talking about the “golden thread” of conditions that are important for people to thrive. In this article he lists these as the rule of law, the absence of conflict and corruption, and the presence of property rights and strong institutions. While details are scare there have been some interesting critiques of this approach, including by Owen Barder and Chris Blattman.

While there is clearly a lot of sense in focusing attention on these things, Barder rightly points out that civil society themselves have a huge role to play in bringing these about within a country and need to be pro-actively supported to do so. Aid can play a very helpful role in supporting education and community mobilisation, and in providing technical support to help communities track government money and hold their leaders to account.

Barder also points out the global system itself needs sorting out – weak governance and corruption aren’t just developing country problems.  To his credit, Cameron did point out that,

“In the developed world must also put our own house in order, including by tracking down and returning plundered assets, refusing visas to corrupt foreign officials and stopping bribery involving our companies.”

However I would argue that the UK has further to go to be in a leadership position on this agenda than it has on aid. Our recent Bribery Act – making it illegal for UK companies to bribe foreign officials – was a good start, but the government needs a comprehensive anti-corruption strategy, must join the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative and must do much more to tackle systematic tax evasion if Cameron really does want the UK to play a leadership role.

David Cameron mentioned the crucial legislation currently being finalised by the EU which will force EU companies to publish what they pay to developing countries which, as Bishop Stephen Munga from Tanzania recently set out,  would really help communities to ensure that the money was invested in ways which help communities to get out of poverty.  It was great to see public support for this in the Wall Street Journal and we hope that the UK really are leading within the EU Council to make the legislation as strong as possible and will certainly support them through our Unearth the Truth campaign as they seek to do so.

Image

David Cameron and his co-Chairs of the UN High Level Panel in London yesterday (from DFID website)

Because, although we know that the UK isn’t perhaps the global power that it once was, UK leadership does matter at the moment and 2013 is going to be a very important year. David Cameron is currently co-chair of the UN High Level Panel on the post-2015 agenda, meeting in London this week, and has an important role to play in setting out a vision for a more fairer and sustainable world, as well as the best targets to set to make sure that vision is realised.

The UK is also chairing both the G8 and the Open Government Partnership next year, both of which provide significant opportunities for initiatives to tackle corruption and promote greater transparency in the use of financial resources .

It was encouraging that Cameron pledged to hold a hunger summit in 2013 to make sure the world doesn’t lose focus in tackling the root causes of hunger – remembering that one in eight people still go to bed hungry every night. But there will be a huge amount of energy and diplomacy required to get all of these processes to deliver more than just warm words.

The vision that Cameron has set out is a compelling one. But it is now vital that he delivers – both by making sure that the UK gets its own house in order, and by ensuring that the rest of the world get on board with this vision too.

What does the reshuffle mean for the fight against poverty?

By Rosanne White, Tearfund’s Parliamentary Officer

Reshuffle day, and it’s ministerial bingo time as every commentator, newspaper and social network speculates on the new Cabinet and watches with bated breath as each departmental car glides towards Number 10.

We watch as each Cabinet hopeful staggers to the door, some pausing to smile grimly at the bank of photographers, others shedding aides as they march inside, only to reappear immediately (Jeremy Hunt) or after much deliberation (Justine Greening). We read their biographies, reflect on their inadvertent and sometimes more deliberate slip-ups and meditate on their suitability for the job, as if they were old neighbours and not in charge of an extensive legislative agenda.

Justine Greening – new Secretary of State at DFID

But when the final appointments are made, the last press statement released and attention switched instead to the exhausting schedule of party conferences, it’ll be business as usual for the one in seven people in the world who will go to bed hungry tonight. Far away from the screaming headlines and pieces to camera, they will continue to count on the promises that the UK Government has made, promises to legislate for 0.7% of gross national income (GNI) to be dedicated to international aid, promises to prove to be a strong leader in global climate change negotiations and promises to aid the fight against corruption.

That’s not to say that the UK Government has been  remiss in its approach to development and tackling global poverty. The departing Secretary of State for International Development, Andrew Mitchell, has been energetic in his leadership, championing the cause of the world’s poorest people in the face of strident opposition. But with the clamour that comes with a change in Government, whether this change is intended to set public policy off on a new trajectory or to step up its implementation, these commitments must not be drowned out by short term political point-scoring or in appeasing the concerns of staunch party members. Let’s hope that Justine Greening has the bottle to stand her ground.

This Government promised to be the greenest government ever, and the new Cabinet will need to work hard to hold on to our commitments to reduce emissions and to stop climate change from hitting the poorest hardest.  We haven’t yet seen an international agreement to help people adapt to the devastating impacts of climate change or the money to fund it.  Will Ed Davey, Justine Greening and Patrick McLoughlin (new Transport Secretary) be able to work together to find a way to raise climate finance from international shipping and a fair contribution to the Green Climate Fund?

And will our new Minister for Justice, Chris Grayling, ensure that the Bribery Act is world class and make sure it’s extended to cover businesses incorporated in overseas territories and crown dependencies, so we can lead the way in tackling corruption in all jurisdictions?

Finally, Jo Swinson has replaced Norman Lamb as the BIS Minister with responsibility for the important legislation currently going through the EU to ensure that oil, gas and mining companies publish what they pay to developing countries – giving poor communities more say over how the money is spent.  Lamb has been heavily involved in the negotiations and it’s important that Swinson quickly picks up where he left off to ensure the legislation is strong and effective.

Back in May, Rev Kennedy Dhanabalan from Eficor, a Tearfund partner based in India, visited our HQ in the UK. Today, his thoughts on promises seem particularly pertinent. He said, “I was told in India that a Britisher’s handshake is equal to a good agreement which has been made. And I hope that the agreement that you have made, a promise, to give 0.7%, you will give it and keep your promise.”

Next year, the UK will assume the G8 presidency and with it the historic opportunity to tackle the root causes of hunger and extreme poverty. Let’s hope the handshake holds steady and this newly formed team will work together effectively to leave a lasting legacy.

Aid v NHS: dilemma or red herring?

You may have seen the news that, while doing an interview for LBC radio yesterday, David Cameron was confronted by a cancer patient who asked why the UK government is giving billions to tackle poverty overseas when she can’t get the specialist drugs that she needs from the NHS.

This lady was in particularly desperate situation as she has an allergy to the drugs normally offered by the NHS and her predicament was very moving.  However, David Cameron was quick to point out that aid is less than 1% of our national income and is helping to make a huge difference around the world.

I was interviewed by  Premier Radio this afternoon and was asked for my opinion on this story.  The points I made were very similar to

Love for the NHS featured in the Olympics opening ceremony

the Prime Minister’s: that we have a moral commitment to stick to the promises that we’ve made to the world’s poorest communities, that aid money can and is having a huge impact and that the generosity of the British public in response to appeals shows that, as a nation, we are as committed to tackling poverty as we are to our NHS (see my post last November on the Independent poll which showed overall public support for aid.)

On my way out, though, I was hit by an enormous frustration about the way that much of the mainstream media are framing this debate as investment in aid v. investment in healthcare here in the UK. Of course the moral imperative for both is strong and resources are limited.  But why was this wonderful lady not calling for a  a crack down on tax fraud or rogue bankers, high executive pay in the public sector, or perhaps the scrapping of our nuclear weapons as ways of increasing the money available to the NHS, rather than cuts in aid which really will hit the poorest hardest?

How as a development sector have we allowed ourselves to be backed into this corner?  And what can we do to re-frame the debate? Should we be doing more to get the voices of aid beneficiaries heard, so that their plight becomes as personal to us as the lady on LBC’s was yesterday?  Is there more we can do to communicate the huge impact that a relatively small investment has made to people that matter to us – no matter which country they live in?  Or perhaps we should be doing more to collaborate with those in the NHS and others to re-frame the debate and to say that, rather than fighting each other over ever reduced resources, we should be fighting together to ensure that those with plenty contribute more so that we can give more support where the need is greatest?

Will Rio create a climate of change for poor communities?

We’ve blogged today on Alertnet about a new Tearfund report, Dried Up, Drowned Out. In 2005, we spoke to local partners and communities about the impact that the changing climate was having on their lives.  We heard about land that had been flooded, crops that were failing and changing weather patterns which were pushing already vulnerable people further into poverty.  7 years later we went back to many of the same communities, and some new one, to find out if things had improved.  Sadly, in many cases, they have got worse.

Priambandhu Roy’s land in Bangladesh has been devastated by floods, cyclones and rising sea levels, turning his once thriving farm into a fight for survival

The report includes lots of quotes from amazingly resilient people who are adapting their lifestyles in attempts to survive, but who are calling on the developed world for faster emission cuts to stop the situation from getting worse, and for more help to adapt for the future.  They frame this clearly as a justice issue.  They weren’t responsible for the emissions that have caused climate change.  Whilst we know the world’s economy now needs to move on to a more sustainable trajectory, this cannot be done in a way which penalises those who still need to develop in they way that we have, although we did it with no regard for our shared environment.

As leaders gather for next week’s Rio+20 Summit, and consider the development of new Sustainable Development Goals, it is vital that they look to shape a future which is not only greener but also fairer.  If this Summit is successful it could potentially start to build trust between nations with different interests – trust which will be vitally important if life is going to be breathed into the UN Climate talks which are edging forward at a frustratingly slow pace.

Do have a look at some of the fantastic stories and photos that are captured in Dried Up, Drowned Out, and pop along to some of the Rio events organised by Tearfund and SCC, if you haven’t already.

%d bloggers like this: