The disaster in Pakistan has brought to the forefront the issue of foreign aid, and how it is best spent. For a start, they could be addressing some of the issues that cause flooding - deforestation for instance.
Everywhere I travel I see more and more evidence that foreign aid, whether it is from governments or NGOs is misplaced, misused, and even more worrying, often counterproductive, but it is now a huge industry. Stop foreign aid, and huge numbers of people would be out of work. Has anyone worked out how much income tax revenue goes to the UK government as a result of Oxfam's staff?
Out of interest, I worked out that the World Land Trust pays the UK government something in the region of £135k a year in VAT and Employer National Insurance tax to HMRC. We also collect and pay over a further £116k employee PAYE and NI taxes on their behalf a year in taxes etc, and in 2009 we got less than £70,000 in gift aid. So the government makes a clear profit of £180,000 from the WLT.
Now we are a pretty lean organisation and don't have huge numbers of field staff, so how much are the aid agencies putting back into the UK government coffers, and how much is actually landing in the recipient's lap? The answer is often, very little. The aid funding goes on imported vehicles (I have never seen so many bright new 4x4s as i saw in Kampala a few years back), offices full of imported furniture, and so on. It is no wonder that foreign aid has so little impact.
So where does this leave the WLT?
While we, the WLT could be described loosely as providing aid, the form it takes is rather different; effectively we are capitalising the local NGO with assets. Unlike supplying a land rover (which will cost more in maintenance over its lifetime, than the initial donation), land is a capital asset that not only increases in value, but potentially helps the NGO owning it grow sustainably. It may not be perfect, but at least it puts the decision-making processes and the responsibilities in the hands of local NGOs -- and stops the colonialism that taints almost all other forms of foreign aid.