UK

Cutting Foreign Aid To Help Flood Victims Is 'Outrageous' Food Poverty Experts Say

13/02/2014 16:14 GMT | Updated 13/02/2014 16:59 GMT

Global poverty experts have expressed their shock and anger at the "outrageous" campaign to get Britain to drop its international aid budget in favour of the floods.

Speaking to the Huffington Post UK at the Economist's Feeding the World conference in London, World Vision chief executive Justin Byworth called the Daily Mail's front page on the 100,000 people who backed their call to slash aid "inexcusable and unforgivable".

And Etharin Cousin, executive director of the World Food Programme, called the anti-aid agenda an "extremely worrying" minority view, saying she hoped it would be ignored by governments who realised the mutual benefit of helping the world's poorest.

poverty child

The call to halt aid to foreign countries in order to help flood victims was spearheaded by the Mail

Dr Kanayo Nwanze, president of the International Fund for Agricultural Development, said that populist campaigns such as this failed to realise that the poorer and more desperate people become, the more likely they are to be "militant" and susceptible to the teachings of al-Qaeda and terror outfits.

The petition, backed by Ukip and its leader Nigel Farage, was branded "disgraceful" by former Tory Environment Minister Lord Deben on Wednesday.

Byworth told HuffPost UK he had seen the front page of the Daily Mail just after he returned from the Philippines, having seen the devastating effects of Typhoon Haiyan.

"Obviously, the floods are very serious, I live in Oxford, the village I live in is affected. But this is outrageous, it's a political excuse, using the tragedy we're seeing here for an agenda, to bash aid.

"Anything that politicises poverty here and in the UK, makes me angry, we are promoting a political agenda on the backs of the poor. It should be our humanitarian agenda that drives us.

"Coming from a particular place in the political spectrum, it is inexcusable, using those tragedies, both here, and bigger tragedies abroad, to do this, is unforgivable."

Byworth said that he still believed those with such an agenda were a minority, but one "that uses every opportunity to get on the megaphone.

"I think it is a risk, that if we see there is more media attention, it will be undermined further."

The campaign against aid in the UK and elsewhere is a "very worrying trend," according to Cousin, a former US ambassador.

"The reality is that we live on a very small planet.

"Food security in one part of the world means security for another part. We are hopeful government recognise the need to support both population.

"Of course, pots are shrinking because people have concerns about their own lives, their own children. But if you increase markets and opportunities across the world, it's the old adage of 'all boats rise'. We can ensure that the farmer in Rwanda is purchasing from the factory in Yorkshire. That's the world we need to aspire to. A global economy is about all of us."

Nwanze said the campaign had the potential to cause "disaster".

"The mistake we make, we do not see the connection between instability and how it affects global peace," he told HuffPost UK. "As the rural areas are destabilised, people migrate to urban areas, and there they often become even poorer, more frustrated, desperate and susceptible to rhetoric. They end up in militancy.

"A small problem in the Niger Delta, 15 to 20 years ago, has now become a terrorist group, first locally, then it affects the local region, then they link up with Al Qaeda in Mali.

"Frankly, people need to understand this better."

Byworth said he realised the importance of reiterating how international aid was in the British interest, a line he said which had particular appeal in the Conservative party. "But let's remember how much we are talking about, less than 1% of the budget. And the impact of aid is unbelievable. It works, the number of children who die before their fifth birthday has almost halved.

India, a country which, many critics point out, has its own space programme, is often the target of such anti-aid campaigns.

"In India, we have more Indians sponsoring an Indian child than we do foreigners sponsoring children.

"Middle income countries should be sorting out their own concerns, I completely understand public and political opinion on that," Byworth told HuffPost UK. But, conversely, India has "the largest number of children going to bed hungry. I don't think the job there is finished."

"In India, they are stepping up to it," Cousin agreed. "India is paying us to deliver programmes, and in Nigeria there are pockets they want us to work in and they will achieve private sector funding for it."

Experts at the conference also voiced concern about a report from the International Development Select Committee on Thursday, which suggested overseas aid should be given in the form of loans rather than donations, with grants restricted to the poorest countries or for emergency situations.

"We know what happened back in the '80s when countries got into debt, and we had to get them out of debt, and in some cases, drop the debt entirely. It is unsustainable," Byworth said. " We in the West still get more out of Africa, in terms of trade and investment, than we put in. So we need to be very careful with loans that we do not increase the burden on the poor."

"If you require the government's to repay the money you give to help them do that, then you are creating a deficit in that country, more potential insecurity in the future," Cousin added.

"We have been down this road before, where countries amassed very large deficits because of loans they took from different governments, and they have forgiven the loans because of the campaigns that took place."