The Spectator

What Turkey needs

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This week’s earthquake in Turkey and northern Syria is a reminder that in spite of civilisation’s advance and human ingenuity, there are natural disasters we can do little to prevent or to protect ourselves from.

Though the death toll from floods, drought and storms has fallen dramatically over the past century, the toll from tsunamis, earthquakes and volcanos has remained the same. We have little defence against shifting tectonic plates.

Poorly conceived aid projects can perpetuate rather than tackle poverty

After an earthquake, what matters is the speed at which aid arrives. Every minute counts in the effort to find people buried under the debris, to distribute food and to rebuild infrastructure. A country’s aid programme, therefore, should be judged not by the amount of money it’s prepared to spend, but by how well it works. In this case, the disaster in Turkey provides an opportunity for the UK government to answer the critics of its international aid policy and demonstrate its efficiency.

As chancellor, Rishi Sunak came in for much criticism for reducing Britain’s aid target from 0.7 to 0.5 per cent of gross national income (GNI). That 0.7 target had been enshrined in law by David Cameron in 2015. But the spending of money is not an achievement in itself. The requirement to spend and the doling out of cash without accountability can in the end do more harm than good. The  Department for International Development resorted to simply handing cash to the World Bank. This did not inspire confidence.

What matters is not the quantity of UK aid but its quality. It will surprise many to learn that only £743 million of the £11 billion spent by the UK on aid in 2021 was in the form of direct humanitarian assistance: emergency response to floods, earthquakes and other disasters. A further £970 million was spent on health programmes and just over £1 billion on refugees, but the bulk of the money was spent on long-term development aid and contributions to global bodies such as the United Nations.

While much long-term aid spending has no doubt performed some useful purpose, it is of more questionable value than emergency aid.

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