Overseas aid as we know it today – money given on a regular basis by rich countries to poor countries – began after World War 2 with the advent of the United Nations. It had two main functions: development and the relief of poverty and these are still the aims of the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID).
UK aid is divided into many different slices: for humanitarian relief, for the UN, for the EU aid programme and mainly for bilateral aid direct to individual countries. India received the largest single amount – £295million in 2009/10 – but this was less than 4% of the UK’s total aid spending.
However, India often seems to be used as a sort of touchstone for those who question the whole UK aid programme and want to see that programme substantially reduced. So the question of aid to India often has wider significance.
Does India need aid?
India with its 1,200 million people is more like a continent than a country. One third of all the poorest people in the world live in India. The numbers of poor people are just mind-blowing and their needs are very great:
According to the World Bank around 460 million Indians, the equivalent of 42% of the population, live in extreme poverty, on less than $1.25 a day. 80% live on less than $2 a day, which is a higher proportion than in Sub-Saharan Africa. 48% of children in India under the age of five are malnourished (UNICEF). Chronic malnutrition damages physical and mental development, which has a devastating toll on what should be a vital national resource.
What about India’s booming economy?
India certainly has a booming economy with growth rates, currently 8.5% for 2010/11, mainly providing jobs and relative prosperity for a new, urban, middle class.
Why doesn’t India look after its own people?
Actually much is being done by Indian people, and the state and public bodies do play a part too. There are dozens of government anti-poverty programmes and job creation schemes run by the state and national authorities throughout India. Some are more effective than others. Perhaps the sheer size of the problems in India gives those trying to tackle them a feeling of inadequacy and hopelessness.
There are also hundreds of groups and charities – AVI’s partners are examples – working with the marginalised. The groups we support are run by local activists who want to bring about change and ensure that these marginalised people have a better quality of life. There are also wealthy Indian philanthropists funding charitable work.
Less aid or better aid?
Those who don’t like the idea of aid often highlight examples of inappropriate aid or corruption to attack aid in general. Another view would be that more effort should go into ensuring aid does meet people’s very real needs.
So how is UK aid to India used?
Most recently UK aid has focused on particular states and marginalised groups in those states. The UK has supported Indian government programmes making basic health and education services available to groups that might otherwise miss out, helping India to work towards reaching the Millennium Development Goals in 2015.
UK aid is set to continue at about £280 million per year for the next four years. Plans are still being finalised but the focus will be on a limited number of the poorest states and in particular on women and girls and their health and education needs. AVI supporters and all those familiar with life in rural India will know what a big difference this money could make if wisely spent on where it is needed most.
Read more about the work of Action Village India here.