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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The deafening killer - why noise will be the next great pollution scandal

A growing body of evidence shows that noise can have serious health impacts too. 

Our cities are being poisoned by a toxin that surrounds us day and night. It eats away at our brains, hurts our hearts, clutches at our sleep, and gnaws at the quality of our daily lives.

Hardly a silent killer, it gets short shrift compared to the well-publicised terrors of air pollution and sugars food. It is the dull, thumping, stultifying drum-beat of perpetual noise.

The score that accompanies city life is brutal and constant. It disrupts the everyday: The coffee break ruined by the screech of a line of double decker buses braking at the lights. The lawyer’s conference call broken by drilling as she makes her way to the office. The writer’s struggle to find a quiet corner to pen his latest article.

For city-dwellers, it’s all-consuming and impossible to avoid. Construction, traffic, the whirring of machinery, the neighbour’s stereo. Even at home, the beeps and buzzes made by washing machines, fridges, and phones all serve to distract and unsettle.

But the never-ending noisiness of city life is far more than a problem of aesthetics. A growing body of evidence shows that noise can have serious health impacts too. Recent studies have linked noise pollution to hearing loss, sleep deprivation, hypertension, heart disease, brain development, and even increased risk of dementia.

One research team compared families living on different stories of the same building in Manhattan to isolate the impact of noise on health and education. They found children in lower, noisier floors were worse at reading than their higher-up peers, an effect that was most pronounced for children who had lived in the building for longest.

Those studies have been replicated for the impact of aircraft noise with similar results. Not only does noise cause higher blood pressure and worsens quality of sleep, it also stymies pupils trying to concentrate in class.

As with many forms of pollution, the poorest are typically the hardest hit. The worst-off in any city often live by busy roads in poorly-insulated houses or flats, cheek by jowl with packed-in neighbours.

The US Department of Transport recently mapped road and aircraft noise across the United States. Predictably, the loudest areas overlapped with some of the country’s most deprived. Those included the south side of Atlanta and the lowest-income areas of LA and Seattle.

Yet as noise pollution grows in line with road and air traffic and rising urban density, public policy has turned a blind eye.

Council noise response services, formally a 24-hour defence against neighbourly disputes, have fallen victim to local government cuts. Decisions on airport expansion and road development pay scant regard to their audible impact. Political platforms remain silent on the loudest poison.

This is odd at a time when we have never had more tools at our disposal to deal with the issue. Electric Vehicles are practically noise-less, yet noise rarely features in the arguments for their adoption. Just replacing today’s bus fleet would transform city centres; doing the same for taxis and trucks would amount to a revolution.

Vehicles are just the start. Millions were spent on a programme of “Warm Homes”; what about “Quiet Homes”? How did we value the noise impact in the decision to build a third runway at Heathrow, and how do we compensate people now that it’s going ahead?

Construction is a major driver of decibels. Should builders compensate “noise victims” for over-drilling? Or could regulation push equipment manufacturers to find new ways to dampen the sound of their kit?

Of course, none of this addresses the noise pollution we impose on ourselves. The bars and clubs we choose to visit or the music we stick in our ears. Whether pumping dance tracks in spin classes or indie rock in trendy coffee shops, people’s desire to compensate for bad noise out there by playing louder noise in here is hard to control for.

The Clean Air Act of 1956 heralded a new era of city life, one where smog and grime gave way to clear skies and clearer lungs. That fight still goes on today.

But some day, we will turn our attention to our clogged-up airwaves. The decibels will fall. #Twitter will give way to twitter. And every now and again, as we step from our homes into city life, we may just hear the sweetest sound of all. Silence.

Adam Swersky is a councillor in Harrow and is cabinet member for finance. He writes in a personal capacity.