Last Saturday we held a meeting of VSO volunteers just returned from Zimbabwe. They were motivated by an urgent desire to respond to the drought facing their friends and colleagues in the communities they had recently left, having seen at first hand its disastrous effects. Their concern is echoed by the millions of British people who give generously every year to emergency appeals and support longer-term development work.
In the face of such proven public support for aid, it is an appalling irony that the proposed government spending cuts might, at a stroke, axe an amount equivalent to all the voluntary income of aid agencies last year.
VSO volunteers return home bearing witness to the tremendous efforts made by people in Africa and elsewhere to seek solutions to the problems they face. What should I say to them when they see their work, and that of their colleagues, being undermined, when we are still a very wealthy society by world standards? By any measure, Africa can afford these cuts far less than we can, especially considering the net outflow of funds in debt repayments to the North. Yet long-term damage now threatens lives, communities and the democratic process that many countries have been encouraged by this government to follow.
It is vital, therefore, that the aid budget should not be cut and that much-needed support to southern Africa and elsewhere not be put in jeopardy. Then perhaps we will be going some way towards working for a more decent world.
Voluntary Service Overseas