Hurricane Season Is No Time To Plan Foreign Aid Cuts

02/10/2017 00:43 BST | Updated 02/10/2017 00:43 BST
HECTOR RETAMAL via Getty Images

No one can deny that the UK government had ample warning that hurricane Irma, a Caribbean storm of unprecedented force, was heading for British territories. Comments by Mrs May and her cabinet, scapegoating rules on aid, are an unedifying attempt to distract from the government's inadequate preparedness.

They were like deer caught in headlights; their belated efforts as the full tragedy played out put this country to shame. When compared with France and the Netherlands' rapid responses, it is clear that the UK has no excuse for the lack of ready support to the British Oversea Territories (BOTs).

The situation on the ground is desperate and urgent help must be given to all those affected. These are British territories. We are responsible both for their security and military defence, which means it is incumbent upon us to use our domestic budgets to provide the help and support so desperately needed. To attempt to use the plight of the BOTS as a politically convenient opportunity to those who seek to undermine our government's laudable commitment to the 0.7% aid budget to help the poorest people on the planet is morally reprehensible.

OECD Development Assistance Committee (DAC) definitions regarding what constitutes foreign aid have taken decades to develop. For the Conservative government to suggest that they are no longer fit for purpose and threaten unilateral action to abandon them if they are unsuccessful in reforming them to their satisfaction will be tantamount to an act of careless vandalism.

At a time when Britain's place in the world is already in a state of uncertainty and flux, ripping apart OECD DAC definitions would risk further diminishing our voice on the international stage. Instead, we should use every platform available to us to magnify it to ensure that the UN Sustainable Development Goals are met and that no people or places are left behind. We must use it to tackle climate change; a key part of this will be to bring the USA back into the Paris Agreement. We must use it to leverage BOT support from our international partners, including the World Bank.

Until this devastating hurricane season is over, the UK government must provide consistent support to the BOTs. This should include increased UK presence in the Caribbean through the reinstatement of UK navy patrols. For future hurricane seasons, it is essential that the UK and BOTs' governments ensure a comprehensive plan of action.

In the long-term, this must include a framework whereby BOT governments use receipts from tourism and banking to invest in preparedness for more frequent and more violent hurricanes. This investment should support infrastructure reconstruction commensurate with surviving future force 5 hurricanes for all the inhabitants of the islands - the gap between the haves and the have nots has been starkly exposed.

The Conservative government must learn from this devastating season. They must ensure that the impact on BOTs of all UK policy is given due consideration. This includes Brexit. The government must acknowledge that BOTs are economically reliant on tourism and therefore curtailed freedom of movement will affect them adversely. They are also reliant on essential supplies and trade with the French and Dutch island of St Martin and therefore a hard border and free trade restrictions will be damaging. They are also reliant on EU development funding, which is at risk.

Yet, despite potential Brexit repercussions, the BOTs were not given a vote in the EU referendum. As such, it is vital that thought be given to all these factors and more: altering them in any way could have a devastating impact on BOTs.

The UK Conservative government's constant finger pointing comes at the expense of those most vulnerable. Its habit of scapegoating multilateral institutions, from the EU on Brexit to the OECD on hurricanes, shows a failure to step up and take responsibility. The price of this irresponsibility is too high. The UK government must learn from this devastating hurricane season. Now, perhaps more than ever, the world needs to work together to solve the greatest problems of our time. To borrow a phrase from the Prime Minister, now more than ever the world needs liberal democratic values.