by PAUL ROGERS
LTHOUGH it came as a surprise that after devaluation the Government did not cut its overseas aid programme, there is little cause for satisfaction.
The world picture continues to be depressing. The gap between rich and poor nations is widening, food reserves are dwindling and famine on a world scale may be as little as ten years away.
A particularly disturbing
feature has been the state of public opinion in Britain revealed by the recent Sunday Times opinion poll, -which showed that when it came to cutting public expenditure, most people thought that the aid programme was the first item which should be axed. This attitude throws a greater burden on the voluntary aid bodies to increase their campaign of education in world responsibility, The Catholic Fund for Overseas Development (CAFOD) is expanding its staff in an effort to raise more money and most people are aware of the work of Oxfam, War on Want, Christian Aid and similar bodies. In all, they collect more than itOm. a year in this country.
What is not appreciated is that, as these organisations are ready to admit, they have no hope at all of solving the world poverty problem on their own. Last year the British Government cut its expenditure on aid by £20m., an amount which is far more than all the money the voluntary bodies raise.
ROOT OF PROBLEM The root of the problem is that the problem of world poverty is so immense that only Governmental action on a large scale can succeed in solving it. The voluntary organisations have been at fault in the past in failing to recognise this.
The World Poverty Campaign is trying to rectify the position, but so far this seems to have had little effect in persuading the electorate that a change in attitude of the wealthy nations is long overdue.
Ten years ago the newsCND
Dpe le demonstrations. Some were full of news of dismissed CND as being a lot of "beardy" but even so it beweir,"
came a powerful political force, able to mount demonstrations involving 100,000 people and there is little doubt that the Government of the day was forced to take note of the feelings of this substantial minority of the electorate. Certainly CND forced many people to face the problem of the H-bomb.
H-BOMB DANGER There is just as much danger to mankind from poverty as from the H-bomb, but where is the analogy to CND? If the Government were to announce a halving in aid expenditure there would not even be 10 people outside No. JO to protest. What is more likely is that people would think that the move was a good one, and necessary to help the country out of its economic difficulties.
The fact that we are, even now, ten times wealthier than half the world is quietly forgotten. This lack of concern for the world's poor can be put down to several causes. We have been used to hearing about the starving millions for a number of years and, as with most things, this has had
the effect of dimming our awareness of the seriousness of the problem.
More important is the deepseated attitude that aid, whether it be through voluntary agencies or by Governments, may be regarded as a charity. It is seen as being something which is in no way a duty, and if the rich countries are not quite as rich as they would like to be, then it is an expenditure which can easily be cut.
Such a view is very common but wrong, since preventing poverty is not a charity but a duty. The gulf between rich and poor nations is an evil, but one which could be overcome, given the will of the wealthy nations.
It is no good even thinking that aid alone, if it were forthcoming, would resolve the problems since much more than this is needed. Although the slogan "trade not aid" may go too far the other way, there is no doubt that faults in the balance of world trade are at the root of many of the problems facing the developing countries. Many of these faults could be rectified quickly and an opportunity for doing this exists in the current meeting of the U.N. Conference on Trade and Development in New Delhi. It met for the first time in Geneva four years ago with the aim of changing the trade and aid imbalance. It very nearly ended in failure, and although the present meeting is better organised, the overall outlook is bleak.
In the last few years, the amount of aid sent to developing countries has not increased; in the U.K., aid as a percentage of national income has fallen by 27 per cent in the last seven years. Just as important, patterns of world trade have not altered significantly in favour of the less developed countries.
World wide commodity a gr e ements are urgently needed to control primary product market fluctuations.
Wealthy nations should increase financial aid to I per cent of their Gross National Product after deducting what is being paid back to them in respect of earlier loans.
This aid should be an actual transfer of capital, not in the form of loans. There are many other recommendations which could be made but these three alone would be of tremendous value and could have an immediate effect.
The recent Back Britain campaign raised the awkward question of back Britain for what? If the answer is to make Britain one among a few rich countries, then this will be at the expense of the rest of the world.
On the other hand, this country is quite capable of achieving a new and more relevant role in the world, that of playing a lead in world development.
We have more experience of development than any other country in the world, but what is lacking at present is the will to assume this role.