International Aid Does More Harm Than Good
Does aid result in greater poverty?
There is a book (Dead Aid by Dambisa Moyo) that claims that international development aid has resulted in greater poverty.
This is not the first report to point out the adverse results of "development" aid. There needs to be a recognition of the difference between "emergency" support and interference in any nation's development. Stopping people starving to death is very different from trying to push global economics into a nation with last century infrastructure and education systems.
Aid should be to support not interfere. Aid from a democratic government should be to support the indigenous people, not their leaders.
Aid should not be handed to “governments” but used to directly pay for specific projects. For example, aid could pay for teacher training in the donor nation and then to subsidise the pay of these trained teachers back in their own country. These subsidies should be paid direct to the teachers not via some “officials.”
All aid should be independently audited by the United Nations; provided a department without a taint of corruption can be found to do this. The audits should ensure payments to all those involved are reasonable and the work both done efficiently and provides benefit to the people of the recipient nation as a whole.
Aid to save people from death during a natural disaster, should be followed, if practical, by work to prevent this occurring again. This may be building irrigation systems, digging deeper wells, water pipelines, road building. These works should be carried out by contractors from the donor nation; they need agreement and acceptance by the local government. It should never involve payments to this local government or any of the officials. If they will not agree to the donor nation doing the work and supplying their own security and support, then they do not get the aid and the indigenous people should be informed.
The old adage of "give a person a fish and they eat that day but teach them how to catch fish and they eat most days," is true (provided, of course, they live near a source of fish that can be caught).
Sometimes the preventative work needed is education—even education on contraception, and this will not always be popular. There are obvious situations where preventive work is not practical. As yet, we have not found how to prevent earthquakes but we can install equipment that gives some advance warning.
Donor nations tend to be those with longer histories of industrial development and these have a different attitude to what is “normal.” Industrialization requires, over a medium to long term, better educated and more liberated thinking than in a nation that has remained based on nomadic agriculture for a thousand years.
It must also be constantly in the minds of representatives of the donor nations that the poor in recipient nations do not have a history of being democratically empowered, nor do they have a history of non violent protests about their own governments. Nearly all humans have a level of pride and hate to feel they are being humiliated or being treated with disdain. The representatives of donors may personally feel superior, but this is their own ego and pride. If they were asked to survive in the way the poor of a recipient nation does, would they survive?
Advice, however well intentioned, that demands a change in an attitude or way of life, will not be easily accepted.
Most recipient nations are in situations where they have cities that may be corruptly governed, but they are urban areas where there is an infrastructure, levels of education, and communication. They also have large, arid, rural, areas where there is no infrastructure, education, or rapid communication. Generally, the rural population is too large to feed all those in the cities and themselves.
It is up to the people themselves to change this structure. It is not the responsibility, or even the duty, of the donors to change the way a nation structures and governs itself. It is hard when it can be seen that the problems are caused by bad management, but the aid giver should not try to make those changes—not directly, anyway. The suggestion that life could be improved for all the population by re-balancing the rural to urban levels can be made but with caution. Where there is little practical infrastructure of democracy, there is rule by elites. This has been so throughout the history of Europe and it is a pathway that all nations seem to have to gone through. Telling an elite that it will be rewarded for re-balancing its population structure, will inevitably lead to the imposition of the hardship involved in that re-balancing on the poor while enhancing the power of the elite.
Be careful what you wish for, and even more careful when offering conditional aid.