Sherrie Silver, the awarding-winning choreographer for Childish Gambino’s hit This is America, hosted a special online event for Global Citizen on Aug. 27 all about UK aid and its role in improving the lives of the world’s poorest people.
Silver, who is also an ambassador for the UN agency IFAD (the International Fund For Agricultural Development) and cares passionately about fixing world hunger, was joined by four experts on international development and aid — and over hundred Global Citizens tuned in.
The “Beyond Borders: UK Aid and Our Global Future” event delved into some of the big questions about the different crises facing our world, and what can be done to help solve them, from the climate crisis to tropical diseases. If you missed it — never fear — because we’ve collected the juiciest nuggets of the fascinating discussion right here.
You can find out more about UK aid and how it works to improve the lives of millions of people through our content here, and you can join the movement to help protect UK aid and its life-saving work by taking action here.
I’ve had the chance to meet many inspiring young people in rural areas as a Youth Advocate for UN @ifadnews and I’ve witnessed their determination, energy and dedication to building a better future. These young people have tremendous potential with the power to feed the world, transform food systems and empower their communities if we give them the tools, resources and opportunities they need. As the COVID19 crisis continues to unfold, we have to make sure - more than ever before - that their voices are heard and their dreams supported by investing in them. #worldyouthday
The climate crisis
Preventing the worst impacts of the climate crisis and supporting those affected to adapt are two of the biggest issues facing us as a planet.
People in many of the world’s poorest countries — who’ve done the least to contribute to the changing climate — will bear the brunt of its worst and earliest impacts unless global action is taken.
Despite the historical effects of Britain’s industrial revolution on climate, today the UK represents just 1% of global greenhouse gas emissions. This means our ability to meaningfully prevent the worst effects of climate change is limited if we act alone, we have to think and act globally.
Luckily, UK aid is already helping protect our global future. Our international aid has so far averted 31 million tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions globally and provided 33 million people with access to clean energy, says Global Citizen’s UK head of advocacy, Ted Elgar, leading on our climate policy-making work across the UK.
The UK has also provided 66 million smallholder farmers with climate-resilient crops, helping protect the most vulnerable against the worst impacts of our changing climate. It is essential UK aid continues to fight climate change and reach the world’s poorest in the difficult years ahead.
UK aid works across global health issues from COVID-19 responses to childhood vaccinations. One example of where it makes a huge difference is on Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTDs).
NTDs affect a staggering 1.7 billion of the poorest people worldwide, but they are labelled as “neglected” by health experts because action against them — from research to understand them, to treatments that eliminate them — is severely underfunded.
Their debilitating consequences – including severe disfigurement and disability – work to keep people in cycles of poverty, robbing them of their independence, their futures, and their dignity.
But thanks to concerted efforts to treat them, funded by international aid, 33 countries have eliminated at least one of these diseases in the last eight years.
Trachoma, for example, the leading cause of infectious blindness worldwide, has been eliminated from 10 countries, including Nepal and Ghana, explains Uniting to Combat NTDs policy adviser, Marc Wormald, an expert in NTD elimination practices globally.
The UK has been a key leader in making this happen — UK aid is funding projects to train medical staff, carry out surgeries, and deliver over 600 million treatments to defeat NTDs. For every £1 UK aid donates, it leverages approximately £25 worth of medical support to poor communities.
The World Health Organisation estimates that if the global community, including the UK, continues this support we would be well on the road to elimination by 2030. This would be an incredible global achievement in making the world a fairer, better place for all, and just one more reason to protect UK aid.
Colonial legacies of the term “aid”
Aid is most effective when local populations take part as equal partners, bringing about sustainable development in their own communities. There are many successful examples of this — from the response to the 2004 tsunami in Indonesia, to current support for Syrian refugees in Iraq.
The term “international aid” was coined in the late 1900s and can sit uncomfortably with Western histories of colonialism and notations of Western or white superiority, says Dr. Janaka Jayawickrama, senior lecturer on Humanitarian Affairs at York University and adviser to UN humanitarian institutions.
He said that ideally we would stop referring to “aid” altogether and find a term that better represents its use today — as a tool of essential global cooperation against some of our biggest challenges, from global health and education to climate change.
The future of aid will be an international effort. From Indian international aid, to Asian and South Korean international aid, countries across the world are already doing their part. Right now the Bangladeshi BRAC organisation is the largest NGO in the world, helping people across Africa and the Middle East. International aid makes us a part of a truly global community.
We will only be able to solve today’s issues by working together. The UK must continue to play our role through international aid, and shift from seeing ourselves as a “charitable donor” to a key collaborator in the fight for a better world for us all.
The future of UK Aid
Despite the clear need for international aid, right now the future of UK aid is under threat. During an unprecedented global pandemic that risks millions falling below the poverty line, the UK government has decided to merge its main aid agency — the Department for International Development — into the Foreign Office to create the new Foreign, Commonwealth, and Development Office.
There are reasons to be concerned. Globally, for example, merged offices often perform far worse on aid effectiveness, according to international aid expert Nilima Gulrajani.
There is now the greater risk that aid money meant for the long-term collective interests of the planet will instead be spent on short term diplomatic interests of the government.
This would be a disaster for the global issues we need to tackle, and could inspire other governments to take aid less seriously at a time when collaboration is needed more than ever.
Luckily, action can still be taken to keep UK aid effective at reaching those in need.
The government can put key safeguards in place, including maintaining international standards, keeping a cabinet minister for development, and ensuring at least 50% of aid continues to reach the poorest people in the poorest countries.
We have a key window of time to make this happen — if you want to make a difference then speak up, take action, and ensure that our aid continues to reach those who need it most.