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

We’ve heard it before: good things happen to those who wait. With the publication of their long-awaited international strategy for development, the UK government seems to have proved that this saying is true.

Despite the long wait, the paper presented to media this week has as much substance and substance as a soap bubble.

We shouldn’t need to remind ourselves, or indeed the government, but the purpose of any strategy for international development is to tackle global poverty and its causes. That is why it exists.

This so-called international development strategy is not an option for the growing number who are facing conflict, hunger and the consequences of the climate change, as well the aftermath of a pandemic.

We live in an age of unprecedented poverty levels and inequality, even before the pandemic and war in Ukraine. We are witnessing the climate crisis in the Horn of Africa contributing to one of the driest seasons ever recorded. It is a crisis on crisis that has resulted in millions of people suffering from hunger.

The UK government must act morally and not retreat.

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

Ministers consider the bedrock of their plans to be the increase in aid spending driven by UK commercial interests. This is one of the most worrying of these plans.

British International Investment, which is primarily focused upon commercial opportunities for British business in megainfrastructure projects, will be channeling ever more of these funds.

Let’s be clear about what this actually means. It is an open admission of the fact that this is not a strategy to combat global poverty.

Ministers are also taking what seems to be an ‘I know best’ approach to development. Instead of shifting decision making to Africa and empowering local leaders, such as women-led organisations, private finance is being touted as the solution.

Ask anyone in the international development community and they will tell you that locating funding as close as possible to the ground and responding as quickly as possible to a crisis is the best way to respond faster. Ministers don’t agree?

Take programs such as the ones that Christian Aid partners in Ethiopia ran, which were funded by the now defunct Department for International Aid and Development. These programmes built community resilience to extreme climates through tools like weather stations and rainwater harvesting systems.

This approach worked, but unfortunately cuts to international assistance have ruined success story after success story.

Three things could be done by the UK government to show an ambitious response to the global crises that we face:

Firstly, Ministers should reflect the public’s own generosity towards those in need from Ukraine to Afghanistan and reverse cuts to the international aid budget that in effect takes away food from one country to feed another.

Second, the UK can use their influence as a financial capital to finally force big private creditors out of debt so that the poorest nations can be freed from the trap of high-interest payments and get money where it is needed most.

Let’s not forget the hype surrounding COP26. We must create an international climate fund funded by rich countries that will address climate-related damage to communities and the natural world.

This would be a good starting point for a strategy. This is how we give hope and tackle inequality and help people live a life free of poverty and injustice.