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Positives can be found if you look beyond the cliches

| December 21st 2010

Whilst we all digest the latest analysis from the institute of fiscal studies that illustrate how “average incomes are forecast to stagnate and both absolute and relative poverty among children and working-age adults are expected to rise”, it is perhaps worth reflecting on some more positive news.

Perhaps the most encouraging trend over the last 10 years has been the real increase in funding for international development. There has also been the development of a cross party consensus that wishes the UK to eventually meet the UN target of 0.7% gdp allocated to international development.  Indeed, DFID has seen its budget protected (albeit with some of its role re-defined to include more basic foreign policy work) whilst other departments have seen budgets cut.

Predictably, this has drawn much criticism from some sections of the British media, who have failed to understand the case for development is also one of the national interest, and have taken the view that aid is a waste. The usual clichés about Africa litter their reports on the issue, with corruption, authoritarian rule and armed conflict cited as reasons why aid money will inevitably be wasted. It is about as accurate as the rest of the material they produce.

The Human Security Report presents the evidence to the contrary. On a positive note, it notes that high intensity conflict (where more than a 1000 people are killed) has declined by 78% since 1988, the percentage of democratic countries doubled between 1950 and 2008, and the amount of inter-state wars has decline from an average of 6 per year to less than one. A further report also suggests that African poverty, whilst still a huge problem, is falling far faster than has been thought with absolute poverty (less than $1 a day) falling from 41% to 31% over the last 20 years, and inequality has also fallen significantly and entirely reversed the rise that occurred prior to 1990.

So there is a positive message here, and one that can be explained by a variety of factors. But the key message is that the tabloid clichés of Africa are wrong, and development money is not necessarily wasted. There are no doubt still some major issues that cause hardship and are worth focusing on, but the overall trend is one of development.  They probably do know it is Christmas in Africa, it does snow (Mount Kilimanjaro) and if you donate money to organisations involved with development then you can sleep easier knowing that money has contributed to a positive outcome.

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