Why Aid India?
on Cowboys and Indians (India), 19/Mar/2011 05:58, 34 days ago
When Andrew Mitchell, the secretary of state for international development, announced recently that the UK plans to give more than£1billion in aid to India over the next four years, it prompted a wave of derision from some sections of the press. “Why on earth is cash-strapped Britain giving £1billion of aid to a country that can afford its own space programme?”asked Stephen Glover in the Daily Mailwhile overin the Express, Jimmy Youngargued‘India doesn't need our aid anymore... Britain does.’I can see why people are making this argument– India has the world’s second fastest growing economy and is now firmly established as a ‘middle-income country’, but the fact remains that there are 450 million people living on less than US$1.25 a day. This apparent disconnect extends well beyond India. It used to be the case that development aid was about helping poor countries, but now72% of the world’s poor people live in middle-income countries.I think part of the problem is a failure to grasp India’s vast size. There aremore poor people in eight Indian states than there are in the 26 countries of sub-Saharan Africa combined, and looking at these states individually makes the need for aid obvious. For example,Bihar has a population the size of Germany and an annual income per person of£200.DFID will focus its spending in just three states: Bihar, Madhya Pradesh and Orissa– the state where I live and work. I decided to get in touch with DFID here in India to get their opinion on the debate. They told me: “The pace of India's transformation to date is remarkable. But India's poorest states - each of them larger than most African countries - still face huge development challenges. For example close to half of the young children in Orissa are undernourished. To put the scale of the challenge into context, in Orissa - just one of India's 28 states - the number of people who live on the equivalent of less than 80 pence a day ($1.25) is 40% of the entire UK population.”They added:“As part of the revitalised British relationship with India, following Prime Minister David Cameron's successful visit last year, our development partnership has an important role to play. We are discussing with the Government of India a new approach. Over the next few years, in India's poorest states, we want to help the private sector to deliver jobs and basic services like health and education in areas which desperately need them. We also want to target our support to the poorest women and girls, and help them get quality schooling, healthcare and nutrition.”Meanwhile in the UK, Christian Aid director Loretta Minghella welcomed the fact that DFID money will be going where it is needed most:“The emphasis of the UK government programme is on three of the poorest states in the country where there remain huge challenges, particularly in providing education and health care, nutrition and jobs.”The Indian government is running a host of its own schemes designed to alleviate poverty in these states, but the UK’s attention is able to leverage support and attention for the poorest people who often lack a political voice within the country. There’salso an argumentthat by helping the poorest Indians, the UK is making friends and influencing people who will soon be a global power themselves. As Ms Minghella pointed out:“The UK aid will fit in well with the Indian government’s own strategy of targeting the poorest and most excluded communities. To withdraw aid at this crucial juncture in India’s development would be extremely short-sighted.”