Nadhim Zahawi is MP for Stratford on Avon.
Britain is a small island, but we punch above our weight when it comes to standing up for those who’ve lost everything.
After the US, we’re number two in the world for funds contributed to humanitarian assistance. This level of resource means we can react quickly and decisively to overseas disasters.
When Ebola hit West Africa we were there, providing over £400 million of medical and military support to help Sierra Leone fight the spread of the disease. This strategy is working. New cases have dropped from 500 a week last November to around 30 today. More recently we’ve provided Nepal with search and rescue teams, medics, transport planes and helicopters to assist in dealing with the aftermath of the earthquake.
As a nation, we play a key leadership role in delivering humanitarian assistance. Our biggest commitments at present include Syria, South Sudan, Somalia and Nepal. I sit on the advisory board of the International Rescue Committee. In refugee camps on the Iraq-Syria border I’ve seen for myself how funds from both the UK Government and the British public and are allowing the IRC to provide shelter, healthcare and sanitation for thousands of displaced people.
But as a country we can’t do it alone.
Take the crisis in Syria. Last year, only 62 per cent of the funding that Oxfam estimates Syrian refugees need was actually contributed by donor countries. Based on the size of our economy, Oxfam estimates we contributed 166 percent of what was required of us, while other rich nations like Australia and Japan only managed 28 and 29 percent respectively. That’s why a major foreign policy goal of this Parliament should be to encourage other developed countries to live up to their own obligations.
The politics of this agenda aren’t easy. Most people support the idea of spending on disaster relief, but many are more sceptical about the long-term development aims of the general aid budget. Yet I would argue the situation in Nepal shows why you can’t separate the two.
Any country would suffer from an earthquake of that magnitude, but Nepal’s poverty has severely hindered its ability to respond to such a large-scale disaster. We’ve seen substandard roads being blocked for days, while Nepal’s only international airport has struggled to cope with the number of flights bringing aid into the country. Equally, Ebola was able to spread so quickly in West Africa because of the lack of a developed healthcare infrastructure.
One of the great achievements of the last Parliament was meeting our commitment to spend 0.7 percent of our national income on international aid, and to put this target into law. But while Britain meeting its international obligations, most other countries do not.
In 2005, the then 15 members of the European Union agreed to reach a 0.7 per cent aid target by 2015. Apart from us only four EU countries other than the UK have actually delivered: Sweden, the Netherlands, Denmark and Luxembourg. According to the OECD, the European Union as a whole is expected to miss the target by €41billion in 2015.
Of course between 2005 and now the crisis in the Eurozone has intervened, but the situation outside Europe isn’t much better. Japan and the USA are spending 0.19 per cent each, Canada spends 0.24 while Australia is aiming for 0.21 per cent.
Some will argue that we should abandon our leadership position and fall into line with these countries, rather than trying to pull them up to our level. I disagree.
Aid is an insurance policy. The most immediate threats we face, from terror, drugs or epidemic diseases, are from states failing to deliver security or a decent standard of living for their citizens. Once the Soviets were out, Afghanistan was left to its own devices by the international community. The money we saved in aid and development was spent again many times over in the cost of a 13 year NATO security operation.
But it’s not just about self-interest. As one of the richest countries in the world we have an absolute moral duty not to look the other way. We must help these countries grow their economies and provide the basic infrastructure of living their people need to survive and prosper.
Britain is doing its bit on international aid. Of that we can be proud. Now we need to have the confidence to speak out and ask the rest of the world to do more.