Magazine article The Spectator

Does Aid Help? or Does It Harm?

Magazine article The Spectator

Does Aid Help? or Does It Harm?

Article excerpt

The evidence suggests it may do more harm than good

What a scandal for our times. Oxfam, that upholder of modern-day virtue, unassailable in its righteousness, buried for seven years that its aid workers exploited young girls. The men abused their power to have sex with desperate victims of the Haiti earthquake -- the very people they were supposed to protect.

Michelle Russell of the Charity Commission is clear about the deception. 'We were categorically told by Oxfam; there were no allegations of abuse of beneficiaries. We are very angry and cross about this.'

Nor was this a one-off. Helen Evans, the charity's global head of safeguarding, begged senior staff, ministers and the Department for International Development to act. She had uncovered sexual abuse allegations both abroad -- three in one day -- and in Oxfam's charity shops. Nothing was done.

This is the same Oxfam that recently blamed capitalism for world poverty and set up deck chairs in Trafalgar square to protest against corruption and tax havens. Now the virtue signallers are hoisted on the shard of their own fallibility. Compared with the emerging sins of our aid agencies, tax havens look almost benign.

Sadly Oxfam is not alone. Andrew Macleod, former chief operator of the UN Emerging Coordination Centre, contends paedophiles and '-predatory' sex abusers use the halo of charity work to get close to desperate women and children. 'You have the impunity to do whatever you want. It is endemic across the aid industry and across the world.' He warns the infiltration of the aid industry by paedophiles is on the scale of the Catholic church -- if not bigger. The difficult truth is that 'child rape crimes are being inadvertently funded in part by the United Kingdom taxpayer'.

These revelations threaten to extinguish the virtuous glow that has protected the aid industry from scrutiny. We should seize the opportunity. Is the £13.5 billion we spend on aid each year doing its job? What is its impact on the countries it is supposed to transform at the local and on the national level?

Until now the aid industry has escaped such examination. It is astonishing to learn that aid effectiveness was not even seen as a priority until 2005. Evaluations still use dubious methods, Jonathan Foreman points out in his excellent report 'Aiding and Abetting' (Civitas 2013). One man recalls being told about a splendid school in a village in Pakistan. He had visited the village the week before. There had been no school.

The aid industry has manipulated public opinion with the help of celebrities and politicians eager for the glitz of poverty porn. It's a powerful and cosy lobby. Oxfam and Save the Children are prime overseas contractors for the DfID. Many DfID workers are former activists from the NGO sector. Western media depend on aid agencies for access and transport in conflict areas.

Most of us would back humanitarian aid and international help when disaster strikes. Few would argue with aid that is there for a specific purpose and ends when that purpose is accomplished. But that is not the same as the open-ended commitment demanded by aid agencies. An Oxfam advert sums up the myth we have been sold: 'Together we can end extreme poverty for good. Will you join in?' Who can resist that exhortation? Who wants to sound like a spoilsport by questioning how much must be spent, for how long and how do we judge the job done?

Dambisa Moyo, a global economist from Zambia, points out the first world has sent more than $1 trillion to Africa over the past 50 years. Far from ending extreme poverty, this fabulous sum promoted it. Between 1970 and 1998, when aid flows to Africa were at their peak, poverty in Africa rose from 11 per cent to a staggering 66 per cent. Of course there are other factors. But in her book Dead Aid, Moyo states, 'Aid has been and continues to be an unmitigated political, economic and humanitarian disaster for most parts of the developing world. …

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