The drought in East Africa is the worst the region has seen in more than 60 years. Tens of thousands of people have died due to the resulting famine and millions more are suffering malnutrition and threats to their livelihoods. Despite this, the Horn of Africa has found itself squeezed from the headlines in recent weeks – with the US and Europe distracted by the threat of impending financial meltdown, extremist bombings and shootings in Norway, the continuing civil war in Libya, government crackdowns in Syria and, on top of all that, the death of Amy Winehouse.
Famines on such a scale are, thankfully, rare. Few would argue that governments and citizens shouldn’t be stumping up the cash to help those in need right now. Yet, with public sectors across the continent suffering harsh cuts and people losing their jobs, can Europeans afford to keep spending money on overseas aid except in extreme circumstances? We had a comment sent to us by Jamang, who suggested:
Europeans cannot afford to ‘ringfence’ aid and should cut overseas aid budgets – especially to countries like India and China that do not need (so much) aid.
We spoke to Paul Collier, Professor of Economics at the University of Oxford and author of The Bottom Billion, and asked him if European economies could afford to ring-fence aid budgets in an age of austerity:
Well, of course the British have done just that. The British have got a more ferocious squeeze on public spending than most other countries of Europe and they have ring-fenced overseas aid. That shows it’s politically possible.
But, let’s be realistic, at a time of fiscal austerity aid budgets are likely to get squeezed. That doesn’t mean that development needs to get less effective, however. There’s so much more that Europe can do to help the poorest countries than just aid. And so now is the time to do the things that don’t cost money but are effective. This means looking at trade policy, looking at governance, rules and standards – these things don’t cost money, but they can be very effective. So, at a minimum, if we have to squeeze on aid budgets, let’s do the other stuff.