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The point seven per cent solution: Video

Updated Wednesday 28th February 2007

Ade met up with Secretary of State for International Development Hilary Benn to find out how the British government is making a difference in Wajir - and across Africa

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Copyright BBC

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Copyright BBC

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So you went out to Wajir last January, January 2006, which is, you went over in the heat of the crisis. Can you explain what it was like at the time?

Well it was extraordinary to go somewhere where it hadn’t rained for over a year. And I remember two conversations in particular. One with a farmer, whose cattle had died, and he’d come to the town, and he was living in this bender. They were collecting firewood in order to sell to be able to buy something to eat.

He had, two of his daughters were in the hospital, and he’d lost everything, everything that he depended upon. And then we went to the hospital, to the only paediatric ward in the whole of Wajir, which I remember was fifty-seven thousand square kilometres, someone said to me, and the children who were in there were in the luckiest position, and some of them were extremely ill, but it made me wonder about all the other children who hadn’t got anywhere near the hospital.

I’ve been kind of flailing around in this province trying to think well what’s gone wrong here. They can’t simply ask to be restocked every time this happens. Get restocked, wait for the next crisis to come, get knocked over again. It’s just how long can we keep funding this cycle, something has got to happen that stops the cycle happening. And it’s very hard to find out what that is.

Well that’s a really big question. I do think that helping people to restock is part of the solution because you’re right, the humanitarian operation is very effective, Britain’s been a large contributor as you know. But if people are destitute, what’s the rest of their life going to look like if they’re going to be dependent year after year after year on a handout.

And that’s why, one of the things that we’re working on in Kenya now, and I know you’ve spoken to our team there, is what we call a safety net programme, where you would give people a combination of food but also some money; we’ve trialled this in Ethiopia, we’re now working on it in Kenya. What do you find people do with the money?

Very much entrepreneurism.

Well, partly, a lot of the money will be spent on food but they might be able to save a bit, and where we’ve tried this in Ethiopia, because I met a group of people benefiting from one of our programmes there, on exactly the same trip back in January. And one man said I’ve been able to buy some clothes for my children. Another man said I’ve been able to pay off some debts. Another one said I’ve been able to save some money to buy some small animals. Next year, if this programme runs again, I’ll be able to buy some large animals.

And the question is, if people have had to sell everything, because that’s what you do when your cows have died, you’ve got rid of everything, how do you get your foot back on the ladder? And so a safety net scheme is one of the ways. Now, if we’re talking about places where it isn’t going to rain not just for a year but for five years, then of course there’s going to be a question about whether human beings can survive there, and those are principally decisions for the Government of Kenya.

How much money is our Government giving to specifically Wajir? Is there a figure you have?

Well we gave about £20 million in the current humanitarian crisis. We’ve been providing support.

That was the food aid?

Aid and other forms of support for water, because when I went to Wajir myself, and I met the Ministers, and they said we’ve got a real problem, obviously we lack a water supply, we haven’t got enough water tankers, we haven’t got enough boring machines.

So I made some additional money available during the course of the visit to help them to transport the grain, because that was one thing, they’d got their grain supplies they were prepared to move, and secondly to provide more water because those were the acute needs at the time.

And one of the things that we can do is to say right, what are the gaps, what do you need and to take decisions very quickly. And Britain does it pretty well.

And when you do that funding, you have to do it through the Kenyan Government do you?

In some cases we do, in others we work through UN agencies, the Red Cross, other NGOs that are working on the day. I mean basically the partners we pick are the people who can do the business quickest and most efficiently because people are in need, they need help and you want that help to be delivered as quickly as possible, and that determines who we work with.

Yes and it seems to me they need to be educated so that they can make their own decisions and make their democracy work and sort their problems out themselves. But they need this initial push to kind of fund education, and it seems to me with the Comic Relief, Oxfam and yourself, we’re all funding a crisis rather than developing the place so it can look after itself?

Well the truth is we’re doing both because as well as the humanitarian relief that we give, I mean 70% of our normal development programme in Kenya goes on education and health, and you yourself just said, Adrian, that the primary education is now free and that’s a step forward.

Sorry, say that one again, 70% of?

70% of our main development programme in Kenya, the money goes on education and health, so it’s not the case that we are just spending all of our money on the humanitarian crisis. Of course, when people are in desperate need, our first responsibility is to make sure that we help to feed them and to clothe them and make sure they’ve got enough water to drink, but we’re also working on all the things that you’ve just been talking about. And you’re right, in the end it’s about economic development, people having jobs, income, better life, look after their family better, pay some tax, tax is then spent on employing doctors, nurses, building clinics, buying textbooks and bring in free primary education in Kenya, which they did in 2002, it is pretty recent, we helped to fund that as part of our aid programme, and there are now about a million more children in school in Kenya than was the case previously, because if you’ve got fees, well then poor families can’t afford to send their children to school. So you’re absolutely right in describing the process that has to be gone through.

I find that 70% of how many, forty million?

Well our programme this year’s about sixty million, but we’re spending 70% of it on education and health.

Do you think there will ever come a time where – this is a very large question – where the balance sort of North/South, East/West, where we’re all in a kind of, we’re all playing on the same field, you know, it’s?

Yes, I think it will change. I do. Because one, we can’t claim anymore we didn’t know what was going on, and I think, as human beings, we’ve got a very simple choice, you look at the condition of humankind in other parts of the world and you either say, Adrian, well I’m really sorry about this but I don’t think we can change it and I’m going home and I’m going to shut the curtains and close the door and wish the rest of the world will go away, or you can say okay folks what are we going to do about it. And it’s the people who say right this is what I’m going to do about it.

Make Poverty History, the work of Comic Relief, the contribution the Government is making, lots of other people, but above all, it’s people in developing countries themselves because that’s what’s going to change it. We can help; we can’t do it for people, in the end people have to do it for themselves. And I think human history teaches us that we certainly have the capacity as human beings to change things. So I’m an optimist about the future.

Do you think as a nation, we’ve got our priorities right? Do you think we’re trying to help the developed world enough? I don’t like statistics but I read one statistic which said that in the '70s we used to give point seven our GDP into foreign aid and now it’s point five or something. So I mean, although it’s a lot more than it used to be because the economy’s bigger, it seems odd that proportionately we’re spending less.

We never got to point seven.

Did we not?

No, we didn’t.

I must have dreamt it.

It was a dream. We got to 0.51% in 1979 when the last Labour Government left office. We’ve now got a rapidly rising aid budget and we are committed to get, at last, to the 0.7% by 2013. I think if you look at, take the debt deal done at Gleneagles – I mean this is politics making a difference – the Prime Minister, Gordon Brown and others worked really hard to get that agreement. Here we are, what, seventeen months later, for twenty-one of the very poorest countries in the world, every single penny in debt that they owed to the IMF, the World Bank and the African debt at the bank has been written off. Now, that’s progress. Is it enough? No. Is it progress? Yes, it is. And I’m a great believer in progress because if we can point to that, that’s the best way that we can encourage people to say come on let’s have some more of that, and that’s what I want.

 

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