Stop ped­dling myths on aid, says min­is­ter

The Guardian - - NEWS -

Pa­tel. “News­pa­pers could twist up a story ev­ery day about UK aid, but to date there hasn’t been one that’s been 100% ac­cu­rate. Part of my job has to be to demon­strate the value of UK aid.”

In the So­mali cap­i­tal, Mo­gadishu, where at least 20 peo­ple were killed by al-Shabaab mil­i­tants in an at­tack on a restau­rant last Thurs­day, the min­is­ter met NGOs and the So­mali prime min­is­ter and vis­ited the “drought oper­a­tions room,” where the lat­est fig­ures show a sharp rise in peo­ple be­ing in­ter­nally dis­placed by the food cri­sis.

Some 1.75 mil­lion peo­ple are in camps as live­stock have died, wa­ter­holes dried up and crops failed. Cholera and measles are rav­aging a weak­ened pop­u­la­tion. Un­til this drought, So­ma­lia had been mak­ing progress, at­tract­ing back some of its refugees, a vast di­as­pora which cur­rently sends more money back into the coun­try, sup­port­ing mil­lions, than all the in­ter­na­tional donors put to­gether.

At Mo­gadishu’s heav­ily for­ti­fied air­port, Pa­tel watched UK emer­gency food ra­tions be­ing loaded up to be trans­ported across a deeply in­se­cure coun­try.

“This is a young coun­try, in tran­si­tion from more than two decades of civil war,” she said. “So­ma­lia has a low stan­dard of liv­ing and a very small pub­lic purse; a weak state is vul­ner­a­ble to shock and this is a mas­sive shock. One of the things we need to fo­cus on more and more is build­ing on the re­silience that has seen mas­sively less loss of life than at the same point in the 2011 drought.”

If famine is de­clared in So­ma­lia later this sum­mer, de­spite all ef­forts, it would, she said, be tragic. “But you can’t solve a prob­lem like So­ma­lia in a fis­cal year. We are com­mit­ted. That’s lead­er­ship – now we need oth­ers to com­mit.”

Pa­tel, a Brex­iter, in­sisted she was “a global cit­i­zen”. “My par­ents came from east Africa, born in In­dia, we have that melt­ing pot back­ground.”

She added: “I’m a money girl. My back­ground is eco­nomics and I do a lot of the crunchy fis­cal side. On ac­count­abil­ity I’m ev­ery­body’s worst night­mare. I’m run­ning a lean and mean ship.

“And I’m a no-bull­shit per­son when it comes to call­ing out fi­nance min­is­ters or the World Bank. I think we shouldn’t hes­i­tate to slap the IMF and shake the tree of the World Bank when we are step­ping up.

“I’m fed up with peo­ple think­ing we just sit here hand­ing out money, that I sit writ­ing cheques for North Ko­rea,” she said. “My mantra since tak­ing up this job has been ‘lean into White­hall’ – DfiD needs to be in­te­grated with other de­part­ments so that post-Brexit we can be even stronger in the world.”

She pointed out that DfiD money had paid for spe­cial­ist res­cue train­ing of some UK fire­fight­ers, so they were able to be de­ployed abroad when dis­as­ters struck, but also able to help at Gren­fell Tower.

Asked about com­ments by one of her pre­de­ces­sors, An­drew Mitchell, that DfiD’s days were num­bered as other govern­ment min­is­ters eyed its bud­get, she said: “It’s never been so needed. We face more global chal­lenges in 2017 than ever be­fore. When has Bri­tain ever turned its back on the world?”

Num­ber of peo­ple liv­ing in camps in So­ma­lia as the re­gion’s drought takes hold. ‘I think we shouldn’t hes­i­tate to slap the IMF and shake the tree of the World Bank,’ said Priti Pa­tel, pic­tured left in Ethiopia

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