An article in today’s Irish Examiner highlights the OECD’s commendation of Ireland’s development aid spending – €4 billion on overseas aid during the last six years. In praising us for this contribution the OECD seems to caution us that our work is not done. It appears we must continue to contribute development aid – it is after all our “duty” apparently.
This interpretation of aid as our duty is interesting given the current economic climate and fits in with Paul Collier’s argument in his book, “The Bottom Billion” (which was discussed at this month’s book club).
Collier extensively recognises and outlines the variety of traps present in developing countries which give rise to poverty. He discusses the advantages and potential problems in providing aid to countries in the bottom billion as well as potential solutions to address the divide between rich and poor countries.
In summing up Collier warns of the detriments of “rich country wallowing in guilt over development”. This according to Collier can divert attention from the practical agenda reducing the divide between the rich and the very poor. Collier believes aid needs to be reformed and a key way of doing this is through changing public opinion. As public opinion is dominating and constraining what aid agencies do and how they are run – which is in the wrong direction according to Collier. The public pressure on aid agencies means they cannot afford to “fail” in the eyes of the public. They have to have low administrative expenses and must prioritise long term social objectives rather than short term opportunities for reform and growth in providing unconditional relief from debt to developing countries.
Collier recognises that something must be done to assist the “bottom billion” to try to reduce the divide between rich and poor. One contribution to this is to alter how we view aid. Aid isn’t part of the problem and we cannot be bystanders according to Collier. We need to focus not on the five billion people in the developing world but more narrowly on the one billion approx people who are “stuck” at the “bottom”. Thus a smarter approach to aid is required, while simultaneously introducing new instruments such as trade policies, security strategies, changes to laws and possibly introduce charters.
Thus Collier appears to agree with the OECD – our work is not done, we cannot give up now. But perhaps we do need to think hard about how we proceed with our “duty” and how we define what our “duty” is.