New Delhi: British Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s visit this week brought the announcement of a new package of development aid for India worth £825 million (Rs6,344 crore) over the next three years. One group is asking where exactly this development assistance will go, and how much of it will actually reach children.
Save the Children, a non-profit children’s advocacy group, is asking Brown to make sure that the millions that the UK Department for International Development, also known as DFID, will disburse reaches the poorest and most excluded children. If this group is left out, the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) will not be met, said the group.
Of the aid package, £500 million will be dedicated to health and education. Brown said the money would be used to train 300,000 new teachers and build 300,000 new classrooms. But because a large part of the money has previously gone into centrally sponsored schemes, funding has not trickled down to the district and village levels, said Shireen Miller, director of policy for Save the Children India. “Money is not the issue,” she said. “We have the money, but it’s not filtering down.”
The British and Indian governments should explore partnerships with local organizations that work directly with communities, said Miller.
“If Gordon Brown is serious about his commitment to cut child mortality and malnutrition, he must look to India,” said Miller. “Almost two million Indian children die every year from preventable causes—more than 20% of all the children dying in the world.” Miller added India allocates less than 5% of its GDP to children, though they make up almost 40% of the population.
Susanna Moorehead, head of DFID India, the development wing of the British government, said that whether India achieves the MDGs is beyond the British aid goals, but the money will help India substantially to achieve these objectives.
“Aid is only a part of the solution,” said Moorehead. “As India goes through this transition, it is important to keep pressure up on all fronts including economic growth, policy, dialogue and trade.”
As India enjoys increased prosperity and moves from donor recipient into a donor nation, much foreign aid has been scaled back; the UK represents an exception.
In June, when it announced a £252 million grant over eight years, UK development minister Gareth Thomas had said, “Our TV screens and newspapers are awash with India’s successes: India is booming, shining, emerging, flourishing... But let’s not forget that India is also home to 300 million poor people.”
Augustine Veliath, who works in advocacy and partnerships for the United Nation’s Children Fund in India agreed there needs to be a greater partnership between voluntary initiatives and the government. “Unless India accomplishes the MDGs, the world will not.”
The mid-way report on the eight millennium development goals for Asia indicated India is lagging in goals which range from halving extreme poverty to reducing child mortality rates and providing universal primary education, all by the target date of 2015.
For the Asia-Pacific region, the report said slow progress is being made in reducing child malnutrition in half and reducing child mortality by two-thirds.
The prevalence of child malnutrition is higher than 40% in India and the least developed countries. According to UNICEF, India contributes to 21% of the global burden of child deaths.
Moorehead said India is a mixed bag in terms of reaching the MDG goals, especially in terms of child and maternal mortality. “You have a paradox of an economy growing at 8%, but there’s still poverty and people being left out,” she said. “It’s a work in progress.”