NGOs fear the destitute in India will bear the brunt of aid cuts. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS
As India forges ahead with a host of trade agreements with various European countries, including France, some Indian commentators say the country can well do without the "paltry" sum in financial aid it currently receives from the United Kingdom.
"India still has major challenges. Millions of Indian people live in extreme poverty and a shocking number of children die each year," said Guillaume Grosso, director of the French branch of the anti-poverty group ‘ONE'.
"As Britain reduces aid, it must be very careful to ensure the plight of those children is not made worse," he told IPS.
According to United Nations figures, India had the highest number of under-five child deaths in 2011, despite advances in health care.
World Vision, a Christian relief and development group, has questioned the UK's decision. According to Head of Policy David Thomson, "At the moment nearly half of India's children under five are stunted by lack of nutritious food. That is more than 60 million children....equivalent to the entire population of the UK.
"Unlike acute malnutrition during famine, which can be treated, children never recover from stunting. Their brains and bodies never fully develop, making them much less likely to earn a decent income as adults," he added.
Grosso said that ONE, founded by the singer Bono, and other NGOs fighting against poverty would like to see "a day when development aid is no longer needed". But in the meantime, "aid helps people escape poverty and get access to things we take for granted such as vaccines and clean water", he said.
"It is a temporary solution, but it plays a very important role in kick-starting development. In many countries the resources are simply not available to provide those basic services, so aid is essential," Grosso stressed.
Still, he agreed that India is increasingly able to do without aid, as its "strong economic growth" means that the country now has an expanding pool of domestic resources.
"India (is an example of) how poor countries can transform themselves. As this happens, over time, aid funding can be directed to those countries with the greatest need," Grosso told IPS.
India's "changing place in the world"
This was likely the thinking behind the British Department for International Development (DFID)'s announcement in early November that Development Secretary Justine Greening would not "sign off on any new programmes" and that financial aid to the Asian country would end completely in 2015.
"After reviewing the programme and holding discussions with the Government of India...we agreed that now is the time to move to a relationship focusing on skills-sharing rather than aid," Greening stated.
The move has annoyed Indian officials and brought them closer to the UK's fellow EU member, France.
A few days after the announcement, while Indian officials were in France for the annual commemoration ceremony for Indian soldiers who lost their lives in Europe during the First World War, closer ties between the two countries were on display.
According to the Indian Embassy in Paris, "India and France are quite strategic partners" especially in defence and security issues, and the relationship is growing closer.
India's proposed controversial Jaitapur Nuclear Power Project, for instance, is a joint project with France. If realised, Jaitapur would be the largest nuclear power generating station in the world, with French nuclear engineering company Areva holding the contract to build several reactors.
India is also scheduled to purchase 126 French-built Rafale fighter jets from the French company Dassault Aviation in a deal reported to be worth more than 10 billion dollars. The company recently set up a subsidiary in India, Dassault Aircraft Services India Private Limited.
Indian embassy officials here told IPS that France neither "receives nor gives any bilateral aid to India". But India does provide a few French students with scholarships in the fields of traditional Indian medicine and arts.
"India has stopped accepting aid from many countries, including France," an embassy spokesperson said.
These steps are just one sign of India's "changing place in the world", according to Greening. For their part, Indian commentators like the Times of India have suggested that the time is now ripe for their country to say, "No thank you to the paltry aid" from the UK.
But while officials haggle over political details, NGOs fear that the 360 million people still living in crushing poverty in India will bear the brunt of this abrupt change in policy.
"India may be a middle-income country now, but it still has the highest child malnutrition levels in the world," said Matt Davies, head of international policy and advocacy for ATD Fourth World, a France-based organisation that works to eradicate chronic poverty.
"We have to look at where the aid is going and make sure that the poorest of the poor don't suffer from funding cuts as governments try to cut corners," he told IPS. "Ending financial aid can have serious consequences for those most at risk, in a country where one of the big issues is income inequality."
© Inter Press Service (2012) — All Rights ReservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service
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