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PM: Our aid will hit the spot

Prime Minister David Cameron has written an article for The Guardian on the Government's new approach to international aid spending ensuring there is greater transparency and accountability.

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

Prime Minister David Cameron has written an article for The Guardian on the Government’s new approach to international aid ensuring there is greater transparency and accountability.

Read the article

Britain has this week fundamentally changed the way we support the world’s poorest. There won’t be any less money - in fact, there’ll be more. But we are taking a new approach to the way that money is spent, and how spending is monitored. It’s time to bring greater transparency and accountability to overseas aid.

To start with, we are going to publish online details of every international development programme, letting people see where aid money should be going. Over time we also want that information to get to the very communities who depend on the funding, so they can blow the whistle if it doesn’t get through. Too much aid is too often misplaced, and too much lost to corruption. So we’re creating an independent aid watchdog to make sure development projects pass the most crucial test: how many lives were saved or improved?

Making sure that every pound counts means being realistic and practical about what aid can achieve. Without being hard-hearted, we have to be hard-headed. We should ask: “What are the things that aid can best deliver and that make a real long-term difference?” That’s why we’ve focused on things like anti-malaria bednets and vaccinations for children. It’s obvious that without a healthy young population a country can never grow prosperous; it’s just as obvious that we should look after women, for they hold the key to development.

In many of the poorest countries pregnancy is a life-threatening condition. By the end of today about 1,400 women will have died in pregnancy or childbirth, nearly all of them in the developing world. A decade ago, the world set a target of reducing maternal mortality by 75% by 2015. Yet once again, for all the talk of development goals, little has changed. Levels of maternal mortality in many regions have barely fallen in 20 years. That is shocking and shameful. But it doesn’t have to continue like this.

Our own experience can point the way. The last time Conservatives and Liberals were in government together maternal mortality in Britain was called “the great blot on public health”. Our predecessors turned this around with new policies and resources, including the establishment of a national midwifery service. Within 15 years maternal deaths had fallen by 80%. It’s now time to take a similarly radical approach abroad.

As a first step, we are establishing a £5m fund to help midwives and health workers share their skills with birth attendants, nurses and doctors in the world’s poorest countries. It will also enable us to expand links between the NHS and overseas health systems, and share innovations in health technology.

When I met Stephen Harper, the Canadian prime minister, today we agreed to do all we can to make tackling the scandal of women dying in childbirth a top priority for the G8/G20 meetings in Toronto this month - and at the UN development summit later in the year. The G8 should set an ambitious target of saving three million more lives by 2015. We should be ambitious, as we were in Britain 70 years ago. But we must back our words with real action.

People in developed countries are fed up with hearing grand promises from political leaders which are never fulfilled. They’re angry that money they give too often doesn’t reach the people they wanted to help. And, despite some amazing success stories, like the eradication of smallpox and the near-eradication of polio, they’re frustrated about the lack of progress in the developing world. The answer is not to pull back: even in these difficult times we will meet our commitment to increase spending on aid to 0.7% of gross national income from 2013. But if we’re asking the country to give more, it’s our responsibility to make sure we get more for it.

Read more: Our aid will hit the spot (Guardian website)

Published 4 June 2010