People need to understand aid better

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People need to understand aid better By Maggie Black


Haritha, a pupil, and her mother look at a map of England in a Chennai classroom. UK Department for International Development under a Creative Commons Licence

This week the British government said it will end aid to India. This is a mistake, says Maggie Black.

India has 300 million very poor people, the most poor people in the world. It has more hungry people than all of Africa. India also has a large number of billionaires. It has always had rich people like the Maharajahs with their palaces. There have always been very big differences between rich and poor in India. Yes, India has nuclear weapons, but it also has sweepers. Sweepers are people who look after other peoples’ shit as their job. Yes, it has Bollywood superstars, but it also has girl domestics aged 10 living in slavery.

Yes. the fact that India is rich is a reason to stop aid. Rich Indians and even some activist Indians do not want to be seen as people asking for aid. But they will not help and do the useful things aid does.

Aid does not replace government money. Every Indian state is very, very big with as many people as England. If you compare the aid to the size of an Indian state budget, it is very, very small. This does not mean it can’t be a big help.


No Nonsense International Development: Illusions and Realities by Maggie Black. Buy the book. New Internationalist

Take the example of school toilets. In India public toilets are terrible and so school toilets were not really very important.

But we now know that girls were taken away from school at puberty because there was nowhere clean, or safe, for them to go to the toilet. So for girls to get an education, India had to build good toilets and make schools clean. At first an international aid organization, with the help of an NGO and British aid, started a programme for clean toilets in schools. When everything was working well, the model was copied and the programme was introduced in all of India.

For very little ‘aid’, there was a school programme to help to keep girls in school in all of the Indian sub-continent. Of course, there will be problems and corruption in the contracts between District Education Offices and Toilet Block Builders. And not every parent will now believe their daughter’s virginity is safe in school. But a very big change is possible.

A respected Indian professional started the programme with colleagues in the state administration and local schools. She worked in the local state office of UNICEF. And so she was invited to Delhi to help national planning for building school toilet blocks. Millions and millions of toilet blocks should follow the same design. But as it is India, not all will do so. But that is another matter.

Because she was present and she insisted, they provided incinerators for used menstrual cloths for all girls’ toilet blocks. Because she was important and UNICEF was involved, the all-male National Sanitation Committee accepted this idea.

So giving aid to India is important. This aid may mean that giving girls a chance of education is a national policy. This is not the only example of this kind. People, including the British government, need to understand aid better.


(This article has been simplified so the words, text structure and quotes may have been changed).