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Britain’s new strategy for international development is devoid of substance and gives little hope

The UK's new international development strategy lacks substance and gives little hope

We’ve heard this before; good things come to those who know how to wait. It would seem that the UK government has tested this word to destruction by publishing its long-awaited international development strategy.

Despite expectations, the document presented to the media this week has as much substance as a bubble.

We do not need to remind ourselves or the government, but the goal of any international development strategy is to combat global poverty and its causes. That’s what it’s for.

But for a growing number of people facing conflict, famine, the effects of the climate crisis and the effects of the pandemic, this so-called international development strategy is hopeless.

We live in a time of unprecedented levels of extreme poverty and inequality, even before the effects of the pandemic and the war in Ukraine. In the Horn of Africa, we are witnessing a climate crisis that is contributing to one of the driest seasons in history. Millions are facing hunger, it’s crisis upon crisis.

There is a moral imperative for the UK government to approach the plate rather than turn its back.

While Christian Aid welcomes the UK’s commitment to ending violence against women and girls, unfortunately, these issues cannot be addressed in isolation from issues that exacerbate such violence – such as extreme poverty, conflict, climate change.

One of the most worrying plans, which ministers see as the basis of their intentions, suggests that higher aid costs are driven by Britain’s commercial interests.

Increasingly depleted funds will now increasingly be channeled through British International Investment, an institution that focuses primarily on commercial opportunities for British businesses in mega-infrastructure projects.

Let’s clarify what that means. It is an open admission that this is not a strategy to combat global poverty.

Ministers also take a seemingly “I know better” approach to development. Instead of shifting decision-making to the Global South and empowering local leaders, including women-led organizations, we are told that private finance will be the answer.

If you asked anyone in the international development community, they would tell you that the most effective way to respond quickly to a crisis is to get funding as close to the site as possible and as quickly as possible. Ministers disagree?

Take the programs implemented by the Christian Aid Partners in Ethiopia, funded by the now-abolished Department of International Aid and Development, which has created a society’s resilience to extreme climates through tools such as meteorological stations and rainwater collection facilities.

This approach has worked, but unfortunately the reduction in international aid breaks the success story after the success story.

If the UK government wanted to demonstrate an ambitious response to the global crises we are facing, it could start with three things.

First, ministers must reflect society’s own generosity to those in need from Ukraine to Afghanistan, and repeal cuts to the international aid budget that actually take food from one country to feed another.

Second, the UK can use its influence as financial capital to finally force large private creditors to write off debt so that poorer countries break out of the trap of paying high interest rates and can get money where they are most needed.

Finally, we must comply with the hype of COP26 and create an international climate fund paid by rich countries that will deal with the elimination of damage to climate communities and the environment.

That would be the starting point for a true strategy. So we give the world hope, fight inequality and help people build lives without poverty and injustice.

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