Letter: British aid - with strings attached

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Sir: Your article on the Public Accounts Committee's inquiry into British aid for the Pergau dam project ('Major approved pounds 234m aid for 'wasteful' dam project', 18 January) highlights an issue of major concern to development charities: that political and commercial considerations often outweigh developmental and environmental factors in the allocation of British aid resources.

It also represents a diversion of scarce resources when British aid is set to decline in real terms over the next few years.

At a time when the number of people living in absolute poverty is increasing, it is disappointing that funds equivalent to 12 per cent of the total British aid budget are used to fund a single project that is 'a very bad buy', according to the National Audit Office report, and which runs counter to senior Overseas Development Agency and World Bank advice.

The pounds 234m spent on the project is equivalent to eight times the amount the Government spends on joint funding projects with development charities; it is more than the estimated sum the Government spends on aid that meets poor peoples' basic needs; and it is more than twice the amount of British overseas aid for education.

The ODA itself argues that British aid is used to 'reduce suffering, poverty and deprivation, and to improve the quality of life for poor people'. Yet the Pergau project highlights the increasing commercialisation of British aid. How will the Government ensure that poverty-reduction criteria override other considerations in the future?

Yours sincerely,




London, N19

18 January