Why is Britain spending millions on flood aid abroad?

Published by The Daily Mail (9th December, 2015)

The human drama being played out in Cumbria this week could hardly be more heartbreaking. Christmas trees, their baubles askew, lie forlornly in front gardens a foot deep in cloying mud, underscoring the fact that for hundreds of families, the festive season has been cancelled overnight.

The agony etched on the face of Margaret McCraken, 79, as she was carried from her home in Carlisle, said it all. And inevitably, the recriminations have already begun after these latest ‘once-in-a-lifetime’ floods revealed the inadequacy of the defences put in place.

The prime minister has admitted the defences were ‘not enough’, while his environment minister was forced to defend cuts to flood spending. It fell 14 per cent this year to £695 million.

Yet it isn’t simply a case of not spending enough on flood protection around Britain. For while the political class has promised to spend £2.3 bn over the next six years protecting British households from storms, this seems a trickle beside the torrents of taxpayers’ cash that has just been pledged to protect homes from flooding and extreme weather abroad.

For over the next five years, the Government will lavish £5.8 bn in aid on projects abroad ranging from fighting flood damage in developing world nations, to disaster insurance plans for Pacific islands, and solar energy in Nigeria.

By the year 2020, £1.76 bn will be spent annually on such projects from a total aid budget predicted to swell to an astonishing £16.3 bn a year.

The great British aid giveaway is, of course, utterly daft. For the cash often does more harm than good by fostering corruption, and has been attacked by critics — ranging from African intellectuals through to Nobel prize-winning poverty experts.

Yet still the Government ploughs on with these patronising and wasteful policies, identifying the fight against climate change — and related issues such as flooding — as a key target in a review published last month. So it is that spending in this area will double during David Cameron’s time as prime minister — and by the time of the next election, will have leaped many times since Tony Blair left office in 2007.

These are incredible sums — especially amid an austerity programme slashing budgets of local authorities that will now have to clear up flood damage at home. Cumbria, for instance, expects to spend £100 m repairing its roads alone.

Typical of this new way of wasting your money on foreign aid was the announcement in September of a new £300 m fund for the Caribbean, disclosed during David Cameron’s trip to Jamaica, much of which was to help countries cope with ‘climate shocks’.

The cash is intended to help upgrade 500 miles of roads, build up to 40 new bridges and fund 50 miles of new sea and river defences to guard against flooding.

How those councillors in Cumbria must look with envy at this infrastructure cash chucked at their Caribbean counterparts, as they work out how to clear up the chaos inflicted by Storm Desmond.

Just two weeks ago, another £26 m package was handed out to help Jamaica and other small islands including Barbados, Bermuda, the Seychelles, Tonga and Vanuatu in the Pacific deal with climate change.

This cash included help for drawing up natural disaster prevention plans, assistance with infrastructure projects and insurance against natural disasters such as storms and floods. Yet however controversial such spending, this is small beer compared with the huge sums being doled out by our politicians on far grander schemes across the world.

Britain is, for example, the biggest aid donor to Bangladesh. The country gets around £208 m in direct aid a year, with much of the money going on measures to tackle flooding in a low-lying nation, with millions of impoverished people hit hard during the annual monsoon season. Yet it’s these very climate change projects that have been criticised for poor governance and high spending on administration.

Not only that, according to one internal report for Britain’s Department for International Development, there has even been criticism of projects not spending enough of our money, after they struggled to spend their allocated funds!

Our direct aid donations to Pakistan, meanwhile, are now a staggering £266 m annually. The country often suffers badly with flooding, with millions of people affected. In 2010, the damage was particularly severe, displacing almost one in ten. But because of a history of corruption, some Western countries were reluctant to send large sums in aid. France donated less than £1 million in 2010 — yet Britain committed £134 m plus £10 m to rebuild bridges.

When ministers disclosed their plans recently to channel almost £6 bn into dubious climate change schemes in developing nations, they were applauded by charities that benefit from soaring budgets. ‘This is a welcome move,’ said Oxfam boss Mark Goldring.

The talk is always of how our aid will ‘transform the lives of the poorest, most vulnerable and most marginalised’, as development minister Baroness Verma put it on a trip to Bangladesh this week.

Presumably that’s why Britain handed £1.89 bn to the Climate Investment Funds, an international initiative which aims to transform lives in developing countries through development of low-carbon industries. This gift is ten times as much as was given by France and £500m more even than the United States.

A DFID spokesman said last night: ‘This government is able to both tackle the floods at home and respond to humanitarian crisis abroad. Our investment in overseas development is firmly in Britain’s national interest, tackling the root causes of global problems such as migration, terrorism and climate change.’

Yet one Swedish study that examined nine random global initiatives found that six actually reduced the resilience of the communities they were supposed to help because they were so focused on short-term fixes.

These schemes make politicians feel better as — backed by armies of bureaucrats, fat-cat consultants and charity chiefs — they bestride the world with their vainglorious talk of salvation for local communities. Yet for all this grandstanding abroad, more needs to be spent on British flood defences.

And as weary families in shattered communities in the North-West face months of hardship as they clear up the debris, surely they are entitled to ask if their taxes would not be better spent on river defences here.

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