Stop peddling myths on aid, says minister
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