How we pour millions into foreign flood zones

Published in The Daily Mail (12th February, 2014)

While thousands of frightened and furious Britons fight to defend their homes from the rising waters this week, the biggest flood problem facing British foreign aid officials is how to spend the tidal wave of money flowing into their coffers.

Vast sums are being spent on strategies to limit the damage wrought by flooding around the world.

Despite this, one respected Swedish study which analysed nine global initiatives at random found that six actually reduced the resilience of the communities they were supposed to help because they were so focused on short-term fixes. So where has our money gone – and did it make any difference?


One of the biggest beneficiaries of the British aid boom is Pakistan, despite its endemic corruption and woeful political leadership. We are ramping up donations from £267million last year to £446million by the time of next year’s election – although less than one per cent of Pakistanis bother paying income tax, a figure that includes more than two-thirds of its National Assembly politicians.

The country suffers terribly from flooding, with millions affected over each of the past four years. The devastation in 2010 was particularly bad, displacing almost one in ten people. There was a lukewarm international response, however, partly as a response to appalling corruption in the administration of relief funds following an earthquake five years earlier. 

France donated under £1million – yet Britain happily handed over £144million, including £10million for bridge-building, then doled out seeds for farmers and gave free chickens to families.

Huge sums have even been handed out in cash, with £60million of the British contribution distributed to 138,000 households on special debit cards. Each recipient was given a sum equivalent to £275.Unfortunately, many had never used such cards before.

‘PIN numbers were forgotten, cards were sold because they couldn’t be used and beneficiaries were vulnerable to those seeking to exploit them,’ concluded one study. ‘Many beneficiaries, having never owned an ATM card, tried to scratch off the metallic strip.’


About one third of low-lying Bangladesh floods each year during the Monsoon season, with many of the country’s most impoverished people crowded into the worst-hit areas.

Britain is the country’s biggest aid donor, giving away about £250million a year. Visiting Tory MPs found this included £5million for a television debate show and a £21million road maintenance project.

Dfid’s typically grandiose claims include a pledge to help 15million people cope better with flooding and climate change, with an incredible £123million being spent on this one aim over the course of this parliament.

Britain channels much of these funds through international bodies, although it has been warned by the independent aid watchdog of its failure to hold them adequately to account.One flagship £60million fund turned out to include £4.9million spent on administration costs at the World Bank, notorious for its officials’ fondness for fine hotels and business-class travel.

Yet even the World Bank has been unable to ignore funds going astray in Bangladesh, cancelling its £730million support for a critical bridge project after the government refused to respond to complaints over corruption.

Britain is pouring more than £100million of aid a year into the mountainous nation, promising to ‘reduce the climate and disaster vulnerability’ of four million people. Yet the country, scarred by a decade-long Maoist insurgency, also suffers from rampant corruption as well as the worst inequality in Asia.

Britain is one of the world’s biggest donors to Myanmar (formerly Burma), pledging £184million over the duration of the Tory-LibDem coalition. This includes £6.4million to help Muslims displaced from their homes by communal violence and left at risk of flooding and disease.


When this Portuguese-speaking African nation was hit by catastrophic floods at the start of this century, Dfid swung into action, providing humanitarian relief worth £20million with tents, sanitation, water, food and basic survival equipment.

As the flood waters rose, RAF Sea King helicopters were scrambled from the UK and a naval support ship re-deployed from the Gulf. One hundred rescue boats and several specialist crews were also sent to save people trapped by the waters.

Stung by criticism over its slow reaction, the Blair government then gave another £70million towards reconstruction. The coalition gave another £1.6million last year to help victims of floods.

Just the kind of relief money, in fact, that the exhausted residents of the Somerset Levels and the flooded Thames Valley can only dream of.

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