Bilateral or multilateral? More money for aid, or more aid for your money? Or even - no aid at all? These are the questions that both critics and supporters of aid constantly grapple with. It is an existential debate that takes place in capitals in the Global North, but has repercussions for people around the world - felt most keenly by those who need aid the most.
The debates on aid exist on all sides of the political spectrum. Critics of aid have long used efficiency, value for money and perceived waste as a rallying call for the abolition of the 0.7% target. With the UK having spent 0.7% of our GNI on ODA since 2013, and DFID’s unique position of being the only government department to have to justify underspend, aid is quite often used as a political football, particularly in the context of Conservative Party leadership debates. However, supporters also engage with these arguments, as ensuring that aid is spent efficiently and effectively in the right countries is essential to ensuring that the correct aid reaches the people who need it most - i.e the poorest and most vulnerable in our global society.
Multilateral aid agencies, sometimes criticised for being bureaucratic, or for having monopolistic tendencies, have been proven to be the most effective way of spending aid, and ensure that the greatest number of people in vulnerable populations are provided with assistance. Indeed, the three largest recipients of UK aid - the World Bank, the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB and Malaria, and Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, have been shown by the Centre for Global Development to be among the most reliable and effective channels for delivering quality aid.
Statistics show the remarkable achievements these UK - supported multilaterals have made. Since its inception in 2000, UK funding through Gavi has helped immunise 67.1 million children against vaccine-preventable diseases, saving 1.4 million lives, out of a total of 10 million lives saved through Gavi’s programmes. The Global Fund has saved 27 million lives since 2002, with the UK’s contribution saving 2 million lives. These remarkable achievements have totally transformed the way that the world tackles infectious diseases, and have provided people with a quality of life unimaginable before these multilaterals started delivering aid. However, the impacts on investments in multilateral organisations extends far beyond saving lives but also contributes to lasting, sustainable impact. For example, Gavi works as an alliance to foster much-needed national country ownership.
A young child recieves a polio vaccine in Niger. Photo credit: Niger/© UNICEF
The global response to polio is a perfect example of how UK multilateral aid has contributed to lives saved and contributed to a lasting economic impact - demonstrating the impact of multilateral aid as a cornerstone for all development. The polio response led by the Global Polio Eradication Initiative, of which the UK is a founding donor, has reduced wild polio cases by 99.9%. This was unimaginable even 30 years ago, when this crippling disease tore through many parts of the world, and most people in the UK would have known someone affected. However, through the remarkable leadership shown by GPEI, which has immunised over 2.5 billion children across 200 countries, we are close to eradicating this appalling disease. Additionally, this success has led to a multitude of economic benefits. Reducing these costs has led to an estimated to have saved $27 billion in healthcare costs between 1985 and 2016, and a polio free world would reduce healthcare costs by $50 billion through 2035. Quite simply, UK contributions to multilaterals have led to achievements that were once thought to be impossible.
The multitude of benefits that arise as a result of our commitment to spending 0.7% of our GNI on aid is something that should be celebrated: it provides our diplomacy with a moral authority; ensures that a percentage UK taxpayers money is used effectively to help those most in need; boosts the global economy; and that we all continue to live in a healthier global society. In order to spend 0.7 in the most efficient way possible, it is imperative that we keep supporting multilateral organisations. Quite simply, they are among the best ways to continue to fight for a healthier and more equitable world.