UK Urged to Rethink Termination of China Aid Program

    The U.K. should rethink its decision to shut down its aid programs in China and other middle-income nations in light of new evidence suggesting that the world's poorest people now live in these countries. Photo by: Ashley Keates / U.K. Ministry of Defence / CC BY-NC-ND U.K. Ministry of DefenceCC BY-NC-ND

    The U.K. coalition government should reconsider its decision to close U.K. aid programs in China and other middle-income countries given the rise of new evidence suggesting that the world’s poorest people no longer reside where they are expected to be found, a researcher at New York University’s Center for International Cooperation argues.

    A new report from the Institute of Development Studies suggests that most poor people no longer reside in poor countries, or those defined by the World Bank as low-income countries, Alex Evans shares in a blog published in “Global Dashboard.”

    “In 1990, we estimated that 93 per cent of the world’s poor people lived in low income countries (LICs). In contrast, in 2007-08 we estimate that three quarters of the world’s approximately 1.3 bn poor people now live in middle income countries (MICs) and only about a quarter of the world’s poor – about 370m people – live in the remaining 39 low income countries, which are largely in sub-Saharan Africa,” the report states as quoted by Evans, who also served as special adviser to former U.K. Secretary of State for International Development Hilary Benn.

    The U.K. has been faced with tough decisions on where to focus its aid money since the invasion of Iraq in 2003, when the country slashed the budget for several programs, Evans explains. The process has continued since, and, at present, the U.K. government is reviewing all its aid programs and has already announced it will shut down those in China, he adds.

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    Evans says the IDS study poses an important question: “Is this actually what we should be doing?”

    “Of course, the obvious counter-argument is that that it’s ridiculous for the UK to be sending aid to, say, China when China has its own aid program in Africa. And if – like Dollar and Collier in 1999 (or, one might argue, like Bono or Jeff Sachs today) – you think development is primarily about spraying money at poor countries, then that’s entirely logical,” Evan writes.

    But development is not just about disbursing aid money, he argues.

    “That’s what DFID’s middle income country programmes were all about – and why it was such a tragedy to see them closed down. That’s why DFID needs to retain a sizeable staff presence in China, even if its budget there shrinks,” Evan writes.

    He concludes: “Development policy needs to be about poor people, not just poor countries. Once we reframe our objectives in that light, we’ll find ourselves embarking on reconsideration of some fairly fundamental principles about how and where we do development.”

    About the author

    • Ivy Mungcal

      As former senior staff writer, Ivy Mungcal contributed to several Devex publications. Her focus is on breaking news, and in particular on global aid reform and trends in the United States, Europe, the Caribbean, and the Americas. Before joining Devex in 2009, Ivy produced specialized content for U.S. and U.K.-based business websites.