In this week's New Statesman: Europe's most dangerous leader

Plus a special report: can we afford foreign aid?

Can we afford foreign aid?

At the centre of the New Statesman’s aid package this week, the economist Dambisa Moyo, and the Liberal Democrat peer Paddy Ashdown debate the fundamental question: does aid work?

Moyo argues that much international aid to Africa has been ineffective in “combating poverty and spurring economic growth in a sustained way” because the majority is given without effective conditions attached – and that aid can negatively impact on an economy.

Moreover, foreign aid leads governments to spend more time “courting and catering to their donors than on their constituents”. Moyo questions why the world continues with its aid-based approach in Africa “when we know that trade, investment (domestic and foreign) as well as transparent and effective capital markets are essential for economic success”: 

There is a sense in which there is one set of policies designed for Africa, and another for the rest of the world.

Ashdown, meanwhile, argues that providing long-term aid is a practical as well as moral thing for the UK to do: 

The right type of development aid not only helps countries grow and gives children a better future but is also hugely important in helping to prevent great humanitarian crises. In the future, poverty and lack of access to resources will be two of the greatest drivers of conflict. Aid, which lifts countries out of hopelessness and poverty, is one of the best ways to prevent these conflicts. If you think aid is expensive, try war as an alternative. 

Also in the aid package, Imran Khan tells Mehdi Hasan that in Pakistan, “aid finances a lavish lifestyle” for politicians. Asked what damage international aid has done to the country, the chairman of the Movement for Justice party responds:

First, it stops us making the reforms to restructure our economy. If you have a fiscal deficit, you will be forced to cut your expenditure and you will do everything to raise your revenues. This important development did not take place, because of aid. Second, IMF loans. These two things have propped up crooked governments who have used the poor to service the debt through indirect taxation. The poor subsidise the rich in Pakistan. 

Elsewhere, the NS asks a number of campaigners and opinion-formers – from Jock Stirrup to Annie Lennox – a simple question: can aid end aid?

Tony Blair, who founded the Africa Governance Initiative, responds:

I believe in aid. That’s why, as prime minister, I negotiated the doubling of aid to Africa at the Gleneagles Summit in 2005 . . . But aid alone is not enough. Ultimately, development depends on two things: governance and growth . . . For our part, the rich world has to open up its markets and ensure that global trade rules are fair . . . [T]he of dependence on aid can be achieved within a generation.

Mo Farah, the British athlete and founder of the Mo Farah Foundation, argues “aid is vital in times of emergency – when famine struck Somalia last year UK aid kept people alive.” However, Farah points out: 

Drought is inevitable but famine is not, if we invest in the right solutions such as water wells, crop storage and support for farmers . . . We should be proud of our aid: it saves lives. And when the day comes when aid is no longer needed, we should be proud of that, too.

And in the NS interview, the model and charity ambassador Erin O’Connor tells Alice Gribbin how she thinks she can help Save the Children in their work with those suffering from preventable diseases in India:

“It’s about awareness. I’ve existed in 2D form for the past 15 years as a fashion model, but if that engages people who may recognise me here in the UK, that’s got to help in some way.”

Andrew Mitchell: “Midterm has arrived with a vengeance”

In the Politics interview, Rafael Behr discusses foreign spending in the age of recession with Andrew Mitchell, the Secretary of State for International Development. Mitchell rebuts criticisms aimed at the Tories that their commitment to aid is part of attempts to “decontaminate” the party brand. “It’s really insulting to say this is just about detoxifying the Conservative Party,” he tells Behr.

Mitchell also refutes complaints by some in the party that other “modernising” fixations – such as gay marriage – distract from the mainstream Conservative agenda. However, as Behr notes, the issue is a cause of grief for Tory MPs at the grass-roots level: some complain that gay marriage cost them seats in the May local elections. Mitchell instead blames economic uncertainty and the normal political cycle for the government’s difficulties, telling Behr:

“Midterm has arrived with a vengeance. It took a long time. Many of us couldn’t really understand why it was taking so long; it was like pulling a brick on an elastic.”

As an aside, Behr spots a telling piece of iconography in the cabinet minister’s office:

I notice, among the exotic souvenirs on a coffee table in the corner, a nutcracker that doubles as a Margaret Thatcher action figure.

Elsewhere in the New Statesman

  • John Burnside, the poet, novelist and NS nature columnist contributes a new short story, “Perfect and private things”, written exclusively for the New Statesman
  • Mehdi Hasan argues Angela Merkel’s mania for austerity is destroying Europe
  • Rachel Shabi reports on the need to question the accepted narrative on Syria
  • Conor Mark Jameson investigates what is causing the strange disappearance of our songbirds
  • Rafael Behr reveals Labour’s divisions over House of Lords reform
  • In Critics: Julia Copus explores the role of time in art and litearture; Toby Litt reviews the new book on Blondie, Parallel Lives; Alec MacGillis considers David Maraniss's biography of the young Barack Obama and Will Self's Madness of Crowds

 

Alice Gribbin is a Teaching-Writing Fellow at the Iowa Writers' Workshop. She was formerly the editorial assistant at the New Statesman.

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Air pollution: 5 steps to vanquishing an invisible killer

A new report looks at the economics of air pollution. 

110, 150, 520... These chilling statistics are the number of deaths attributable to particulate air pollution for the cities of Southampton, Nottingham and Birmingham in 2010 respectively. Or how about 40,000 - that is the total number of UK deaths per year that are attributable the combined effects of particulate matter (PM2.5) and Nitrogen Oxides (NOx).

This situation sucks, to say the very least. But while there are no dramatic images to stir up action, these deaths are preventable and we know their cause. Road traffic is the worst culprit. Traffic is responsible for 80 per cent of NOx on high pollution roads, with diesel engines contributing the bulk of the problem.

Now a new report by ResPublica has compiled a list of ways that city councils around the UK can help. The report argues that: “The onus is on cities to create plans that can meet the health and economic challenge within a short time-frame, and identify what they need from national government to do so.”

This is a diplomatic way of saying that current government action on the subject does not go far enough – and that cities must help prod them into gear. That includes poking holes in the government’s proposed plans for new “Clean Air Zones”.

Here are just five of the ways the report suggests letting the light in and the pollution out:

1. Clean up the draft Clean Air Zones framework

Last October, the government set out its draft plans for new Clean Air Zones in the UK’s five most polluted cities, Birmingham, Derby, Leeds, Nottingham and Southampton (excluding London - where other plans are afoot). These zones will charge “polluting” vehicles to enter and can be implemented with varying levels of intensity, with three options that include cars and one that does not.

But the report argues that there is still too much potential for polluters to play dirty with the rules. Car-charging zones must be mandatory for all cities that breach the current EU standards, the report argues (not just the suggested five). Otherwise national operators who own fleets of vehicles could simply relocate outdated buses or taxis to places where they don’t have to pay.  

Different vehicles should fall under the same rules, the report added. Otherwise, taking your car rather than the bus could suddenly seem like the cost-saving option.

2. Vouchers to vouch-safe the project’s success

The government is exploring a scrappage scheme for diesel cars, to help get the worst and oldest polluting vehicles off the road. But as the report points out, blanket scrappage could simply put a whole load of new fossil-fuel cars on the road.

Instead, ResPublica suggests using the revenue from the Clean Air Zone charges, plus hiked vehicle registration fees, to create “Pollution Reduction Vouchers”.

Low-income households with older cars, that would be liable to charging, could then use the vouchers to help secure alternative transport, buy a new and compliant car, or retrofit their existing vehicle with new technology.

3. Extend Vehicle Excise Duty

Vehicle Excise Duty is currently only tiered by how much CO2 pollution a car creates for the first year. After that it becomes a flat rate for all cars under £40,000. The report suggests changing this so that the most polluting vehicles for CO2, NOx and PM2.5 continue to pay higher rates throughout their life span.

For ClientEarth CEO James Thornton, changes to vehicle excise duty are key to moving people onto cleaner modes of transport: “We need a network of clean air zones to keep the most polluting diesel vehicles from the most polluted parts of our towns and cities and incentives such as a targeted scrappage scheme and changes to vehicle excise duty to move people onto cleaner modes of transport.”

4. Repurposed car parks

You would think city bosses would want less cars in the centre of town. But while less cars is good news for oxygen-breathers, it is bad news for city budgets reliant on parking charges. But using car parks to tap into new revenue from property development and joint ventures could help cities reverse this thinking.

5. Prioritise public awareness

Charge zones can be understandably unpopular. In 2008, a referendum in Manchester defeated the idea of congestion charging. So a big effort is needed to raise public awareness of the health crisis our roads have caused. Metro mayors should outline pollution plans in their manifestos, the report suggests. And cities can take advantage of their existing assets. For example in London there are plans to use electronics in the Underground to update travellers on the air pollution levels.

***

Change is already in the air. Southampton has used money from the Local Sustainable Travel Fund to run a successful messaging campaign. And in 2011 Nottingham City Council became the first city to implement a Workplace Parking levy – a scheme which has raised £35.3m to help extend its tram system, upgrade the station and purchase electric buses.

But many more “air necessities” are needed before we can forget about pollution’s worry and its strife.  

 

India Bourke is an environment writer and editorial assistant at the New Statesman.