British Overseas Territories Hit By Natural Disasters Could Now Receive UK Aid
A “significant change” to international aid rules means that countries previously deemed too wealthy to receive UK aid funding could now qualify — if their economies worsen again.
After the British overseas territories of Anguilla, Turks and Caicos, and the British Virgin Islands were hit by devastating Hurricanes Irma and Maria last year, the humanitarian assistance given by the UK couldn’t be classed as Official Development Assistance (ODA).
It’s because the nations are considered too wealthy according to international aid spending regulations — set by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).
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To be eligible for ODA, countries have to have a gross national income of less than £9,400 (about $12,000) — but all three of the affected overseas territories have national incomes higher than that limit.
While the UK still supported the nations with disaster relief funding, it had to be found from other budgets.
Now, however, a new system has been agreed by the OECD’s Development Assistance Committee (DAC), which is made up of 30 leading donor nations.
The new system is what’s known as a “reverse-graduation” mechanism — and it means that countries that have seen economic growth and therefore “graduated” from being eligible for aid, can now become eligible for aid again if their economies worsen — for example, as a result of being hit by a natural disaster — and they fall back below the eligibility threshold.
It means the countries would again be eligible for aid related to long-term economic recovery and reconstruction, rather than humanitarian assistance.
And for Britain’s International Development Secretary Penny Mordaunt, it’s a “major victory for the UK.”
“The British public are strong supporters of providing help in the wake of disasters, including long-term reconstruction,” said Mordaunt, in a statement issued by the Department for International Development following the rule change last week. “They want to help people, especially when they are from nations we have close ties to.”
“Not being able to pay for that help from the aid budget, because a nation’s economy was doing well before a hurricane, earthquake, or other disaster hit, was illogical and had to change,” she added.
“This significant rule change means that in future we may be able to use our aid budget to pay for that longer term, reconstruction support,” Mordaunt continued. “This gives the UK more options in how it can help a nation recover and become more resilient to shocks. I think the public would agree that is what our aid budget should be used for.”
Leading NGOs, however, have previously been cautious about changing rules around ODA spending — including changes that have been described as “more far-reaching proposals such as allowing all humanitarian assistance, irrespective of the economic status of the recipient country or territory, to be counted as ODA.”
During the debate last year, for example, Christian Aid spoke up in favour of a decision not to allow the aid budget to be used for Hurricane Irma victims.
"This isn't because the poorest people on the islands are not in need, they are," said the charity in a statement. "But the overseas aid budget is quite rightly subject to serious scrutiny and a set of rules which ring fence overseas aid spending to ensure it goes to the poorest people in the poorest countries. Overseas Territories are not among the world's poorest countries."
Rules around ODA spending, agreed by international donors, are important to ensure that humanitarian aid is always spend with the aim of ending extreme poverty.
Claire Godfrey, head of policy and campaigns at Bond, a network of UK international development NGOs, said in September, before the rule change: “The current definition ensures that ODA spending is targeted on poverty reduction, and although imperfect, attempts to ‘update’ the definition risk unintended consequences and could place the UK’s global reputation in jeopardy.”
Katy Chakrabortty, Oxfam GB’s head of advocacy, said at the time: “The prime minister has recently spoken proudly about the value of UK aid to the world’s poorest people. We have a global reputation to protect.”