Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Slaughter Isn't Free

Soon, very soon, we may be able to receive reports from the United States Congress that are properly focused on real issues, depending on who gets out to vote in two weeks. Meantime here is a perfectly serviceable British example of the kind of comparison that needs to be done.

Wars cancel out aid spending
Tania Branigan, political correspondent
Wednesday October 25, 2006
Guardian Unlimited

The cost of a single war in the developing world is equal to two-thirds of the total global aid budget, according to a report by MPs published today.

It warns that any increase in hostilities could wipe out the impact of the aid commitments pledged at Gleneagles in 2005 and that violent conflict in Africa "severely challenges" the achievement of the United Nations' millennium development goals.

"Preventing and ending conflicts will do more to create a climate for poverty reduction than any amount of costly aid programmes," the Commons international development committee said.

It praised the Department for International Development's pledge to develop a conflict policy, but warned that the government had not taken sufficient action to deter British companies from participation in trading resources such as diamonds or oil from war zones.

It argued that hostilities are intensified and prolonged because combatants see war as an opportunity to make money and urged ministers to work with the United Nations to develop an international agreement on the definition of "conflict resources".

The MPs, who visited Sierra Leone, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo during their inquiry, added: "One of the lessons common to all three is that conflicts are not always contained within state boundaries. If this fact is ignored, aid given to one country may end up fuelling conflict in a neighbouring country.

"How a country deals with its neighbours and its role in regional tensions must form part of DfID's consideration about how much and what type of aid is suitable."

The report cites an estimate putting the average cost of a civil war for a low-income country at around £29bn, against the total global aid budget in 2004 of £42bn.

Malcolm Bruce, the committee chairman, said: "Poor states tend to be weak states and so they need economic aid to reduce the risk of descending into conflict.

"However, some conflict-prone states are rich in resources which can sustain warlords, encourage foreign adventurism and lead to the failure of the state and increased poverty for the many as the few get rich.

"If the government prioritised the link between conflict and development it would do more to create a climate for poverty reduction in these countries than any amount of costly aid programmes."

Mr Bruce added: "We believe that the Department of Trade and Industry should work harder to ensure that UK companies working in Africa follow the OECD guidelines for multinational enterprises.

"We intend to take evidence from DTI on its role in monitoring the actions of such companies working in conflict-prone and conflict-affected states."

Claire Hickson, head of advocacy at Saferworld - which works to prevent armed violence, said: "Next year marks the halfway point for the millennium development goals. They will not be reached unless more effort is made to prevent and resolve violent conflict.

"If the UK government is to play its part in ensuring they are achieved, it needs to act fast on these recommendations and concentrate more effort on conflict-afflicted countries."

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