The United Kingdom is prepared to flout international aid guidelines and change its own legislation in order to use its foreign aid budget to assist hurricane-hit territories in the Caribbean, according to reports in the U.K.
Anguilla, the British Virgin Islands and the Turks and Caicos Islands were devastated by successive hurricanes last year. However, they were unable to qualify for support from the U.K.’s $13 billion foreign development aid budget because they were deemed “too rich” under a formula set by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.
The formula defines which type of assistance qualifies as development aid and counts toward the U.K.’s commitment to spend 0.7 percent of gross national income on development aid – the United Nation’s target for all developed countries.
The Cayman Islands, which has a per capita income similar to the U.S., would also be unable to qualify for such aid in the event of a similar catastrophe.
Ultimately, the U.K. found funding from sources other than the approved aid budget to provide a reported 57 million pounds sterling (US$74 million) in disaster relief to its hurricane-hit territories last year.
It has since unsuccessfully petitioned the OECD Development Assistance Committee for a change in the aid rules to allow wealthier countries to be eligible for such funding if they are impacted by natural disasters.
Now, the U.K’s Daily Telegraph newspaper has reported that International Development Secretary Penny Mordaunt has instructed her department to fund disaster relief from its own budget in future – even if it means breaching international aid rules.
She told the newspaper: “The public support the tremendous work our armed forces and UKaid do to help people in dire need, especially in countries which have a close connection to the U.K.
“It is ridiculous that a country which had been flattened by natural disaster shouldn’t qualify for aid as the day before it was doing quite well. While we lobby to change those rules, we will not let them deter what we consider to be the right thing to do. I believe that is what British taxpayers would wish.”
Britain’s commitment to abide by OECD rules and spend 0.7 percent of gross national income on aid was enshrined in U.K. law by the government of former Prime Minister David Cameron in 2015. The Telegraph reports that the British government is prepared to change that law if the OECD does not agree to alter its rules.
The current rules for official development assistance, set by the OECD, prohibit the use of such funding to support countries above a certain gross national income.
Several British politicians claimed last year that its support to hurricane-hit territories in the Caribbean could have been higher if it had not been restricted in this way.
The OECD seeks to ring-fence development funding to fight poverty in developing countries.
Ms. Mourdant’s comments have attracted concern that the U.K.’s actions could set a precedent that impacts funding to developing countries.
Julie Seghers, OECD advocacy adviser at Oxfam International, told global development website Devex that the international community needs “collective aid rules – of which the OECD-DAC has been a custodian for over 50 years – to ensure aid is being spent well, and is effectively stamping out poverty and inequality in developing countries.”
“Without a recognized agreement on what can count as aid, the 0.7 percent commitment is a meaningless promise. If individual donors start walking away from DAC [Development Assistance Committee] rules, we worry this could lead to a chain reaction of countries self-defining their own aid rules,” she said.