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Reader ripostes: The case for aid

27 April 2012 13:06

Two responses to Hugh White's 'The case for more aid is still weak', first from Garth Luke, then Richard Broinowski. And below, Judith Downey writes* on another Hugh White article:

Garth Luke is a Senior Researcher at World Vision Australia:

I agree with Hugh White's concern that we should identify what aid does best and to focus Australia's aid program on this. The evidence also supports his statement that what it does best is alleviate the consequences of poverty rather than generate economic growth.

Alleviating the consequences of poverty may sound like small beer to many economists but it is no small thing to people when their children survive and are healthy, or when their daughters get to go to school or they don't die of AIDS or TB. In fact, it is everything. That is why it concerns me when Hugh says things like 'let me suggest that slowing the growth of aid would be no bad thing'.

Shouldn't we instead be focusing on meeting the massive human needs that aid has been proven to meet with existing approaches and mechanisms? These include the 8 million people who still need AIDS treatment or the 7 million children who will die this year of largely preventable causes or the 70 million children without access to school. 

Richard Broinowski:

May I flavour the interesting exchange between Hugh White and Michael Carnahan on the effect of Australian aid with a couple of examples in the Philippines?

In the 1970s, we were engaged in two large-scale rural development projects, one in Zamboanga del Sur, the other in Samar, one of the poorest districts in the country. The well-constructed and graded roads we built were meant to help farmers get their produce to markets. All they really did was to allow the Philippine Constabulary and Army to get at Islamic and 'communist' revolutionaries in their rural hideouts. Wealth distribution was determined by Malacanang, and Ferdinand E Marcos was not about to disband the local oligarchs who controlled the banks, courts, police and local councils on behalf of the peasants.

Nor was Imelda Marcos above using the Australian rural improvement projects for her own ends. When naturally-formed basalt plugs were uncovered by our bulldozers in Pagadian, she thought they must be man-made totems left by a vanished Philippine civilization, and bid the Australian team transport them to the nearest port. From there, naval vessels rushed them up to Manila to line Roxas Boulevard in time for a combined World Bank/IMF meeting to 'prove' that the Philippines had a significant civilisation before the arrival of the Spanish.

In spite of years of aid from many countries including Australia, economic inequality in the Philippines shows no sign of diminishing. Indeed, a strong case could be mounted for arguing that, as in many other developing countries with corrupt central governments, aid exacerbates the situation.

Judith Downey responds to Hugh White's 'Whose fault is our Afghanistan failure':

This is an absolutely magnificent article. Thank you for putting everything so clearly.

* This article has been corrected. Originally, we attributed Judith Downey's riposte to Hugh White's 'The case for more aid is still weak' article. We apologise for the error.