In just two decades, the value of UK exports to China has risen from £600,000 to £12.5 billion. Similar increases have occurred for UK exports to other emerging economies too. Secretary of State for International Development, Justine Greening, speaking at a ONE event on the February 7 2013 believes this is evidence that international development benefits the UK, and our investments overseas will continue to increase wealth, prosperity and security at home. Putting aside the reasons why the UK should stand firm behind its commitment of 0.7% of UK national income to overseas aid, she outlined where the Department for International Development (DFID) is having impact and where they can do more.
Great strides have been made in reducing poverty and hunger. 500 million people have escaped poverty in the last five years and global mortality for young children has almost halved in the last 20. Since the coalition has come to power, better nutrition has been delivered to 2.7 million women and children and better access to clean drinking water to 2 million people. By the end of their term over 11 million people will receive better nutrition but more can be done. Childhood mortality may have decreased across the globe but less progress has been made in Africa and South Asia, where the under-five death rate accounts for 80% of the world total. So what will DFID be doing to address this?
At the core of DFID's work is the goal of mass poverty reduction and while humanitarian aid is certainly part of this picture (the UK have doubled humanitarian aid to Syria recently) so too is investing in human capital such as healthcare and education, and promoting greater economic development. Indeed, one priority Justine Greening outlined for the future of DFID was to drive economic development and growth, particularly that which leads to job creation, alongside improvements in basic services. Where economic growth is sustained above 3% per annum poverty reduction always occurs.
In the coming months DFID will produce a fresh strategy on economic development. This will include how DFID will support British business to invest responsibly in developing countries and how they will remove barriers to investing in Africa and other developing countries. As Greening noted sustainable public services rely on a private sector that creates wealth and taxes but we must ensure private investment is responsible. I hope that the agricultural sector will also feature in DFID's plans, given that agricultural growth is twice as effective in reducing poverty as other sectors.
Enabling economic development if sustainable and equitable can only be a good thing but DFID's help does not come without conditions. Namely they work only in countries that are on the 'right' development pathway, free from corruption and human rights violations. DFID's exit from Uganda and Rwanda are evidence of this. On the other hand the Greening stated a need to work in fragile states or as Paul Collier calls them the 'bottom billion', irrespective of terrorism or piracy. And indeed DFID will be working with the Ministry of Defence (MOD) to target these countries more effectively.
Another priority, and one that I and my colleagues at Agriculture for Impact are passionate about, is driving forward the women and girls agenda alongside the Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO). The Girls Education Fund, instituted by former Secretary of State Andrew Mitchell, helped 1 million more girls go to school. DFID will continue this work as well as seek to champion women's rights at the highest levels of developing country government.
Alongside these, value for money, transparency and technology were also priorities. She acknowledged that growth that reduces poverty is not assured and requires rule of law, property rights, stability, a pro-business environment and job creation if we are to see a demographic dividend. Democracy, accountability and free press combine to create better governance, just one part of the 'golden thread' described by David Cameron that applies to all countries not just those undergoing development. The themes of tax, trade and transparency are related to this and will be key themes for the UK's Presidency of the G8 in 2013. While DFID is the most transparent aid agency in the world they believe they can do more to ensure all aid flows can be tracked from source to recipient.
Great strides have been made and great plans are underway in DFID. Now we need to ensure these plans are sustainable, beneficial to the majority of the poor, and have impact.