Tuesday, 27 December 2011

We shouldn’t be giving a penny to the UN disaster relief fund – let alone £94m!

Barftastic UN logo
The UK’s International Development secretary, Andrew Mitchell, has been warning that countries failing to pay into the CERF, the UN fund set up after the 2004 tsunami, are leaving the world “dangerously unprepared” for future crises. The UK is the largest contributor to the fund.

Here’s a list of contributors (prepare to be annoyed):

UK - £94m
Sweden - £74m
Norway - £67m
Netherlands - £54m
Canada - £41m
Spain - £20m
Germany - £16m
Australia - £13m
US - £6m
Japan - £3m
France - £720,000
China - £500,000
(Source: UN CERF website)

You can react to that in a number of ways, of course. Pride that your government is being so generous with your money? Delight that, because of the British government’s charitable impulses, fewer Third Worlders will die as a result of hurricanes, tsunamis, floods and volcanic eruptions? Pleasure that us Nordic types are once more shown to be the most generous in the world? Outrage that we’re paying 188 times as much as China, over 120 times as much as France, and £94m more than every Muslim country in the world combined?

My own reaction is annoyance that we’re contributing a single penny. One of the most delightful things about Britain is that we don’t often have to contend with natural disasters. There’s the occasional flood, offset by the occasional hosepipe ban. High winds cause problems now and then.

That’s about it.

So why have we taken it upon ourselves to willingly give away £94m of money we don’t have every year to protect people who don’t look like us, live thousands of miles away, and who won’t feel in the least bit grateful for our largesse?

The three things you can guarantee are that, when disaster strikes anywhere in the world, you’ll find a BBC reporter there blaming Britain and America for not doing enough to help – and afterwards, when the redevelopment contracts are being dished out, those Gallic meanies will be first in line, their parsimony forgiven. And the assorted butchers, kleptocrats and tyrants of the UN aren’t suddenly going to clasp us to their bosoms because we’ve coughed up more than anyone else.

So why do we indulge in this expensive, Mrs Jellaby-like posturing?

To keep the Lib-Dems happy? To allow government ministers and civil servants to feel good about themselves as they occupy the moral high ground at international get-togethers? God knows! What I know is that the only guaranteed way to ameliorate the suffering caused by natural disasters is for poor countries to grow richer. National poverty pretty much guarantees slaughter whenever Gaia throws a wobbler – crappy infrastructure makes it difficult to get relief to where it’s needed, crappy housing buckles the instant Nature has a fit, previous aid meant to protect people will long since have been salted away in Swiss bank accounts, and local officials are invariably disorganised, corrupt and useless.

No, the only way to lessen the death toll is for countries to become rich enough, via trade, to enable people to protect themselves by not living in dangerous houses in the most dangerous parts of their countries, and to introduce some form of democracy to keep official corruption in check, so there’s some chance that money will be spent on what it's supposed to be spent on.

The most useful things the UK – and the rest of the developed world – could do to help those whose lives are most at risk from natural disasters would be to tear down artificial trade barriers and to stop denying Third World countries the right to develop industrially and agriculturally using technologies similar to the ones that made us rich in the first place. Squandering UK taxpayers’ money on UN schemes will not alter the fact that, by helping to keep poor countries poor, policies based on the AGW myth are guaranteeing needless deaths.

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