Oxfam’s retort raises several important questions. Does such giving actually help people in poorer countries? Or does it, as Tyler claims, reinforce poverty because the infrastructure is missing? Does gift-aid of this type primarily allow well-off people in Britain to feel that they are actually doing something about world poverty while they tuck into their expensive, organic, free-range turkey? Do all of these agencies by their activities actually reinforce the status quo by diverting resources and energy away from changing the fundamentals? Lest we forget, that status quo is a world dominated by transnational corporations, the World Trade Organisation, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. They are responsible for the fact that more than billion people – one-sixth of the world’s population – live on less than a $1 a day. They are the reason why climate change has resulted in severe drought in some areas and torrential rain in others. For all the efforts of the aid agencies, the number of food emergencies in Africa each year has almost tripled since the 1980s. Across sub-Saharan Africa, one in three people is under-nourished. Each year, 3.4 million people, mostly children, die from water-related diseases. It’s getting worse all round. About 3 billion people lack adequate sanitation facilities compared with 2 billion in 1990. Overall aid agencies, for all their good intentions, are not even managing to hold the line against the powerful forces that really decide people’s futures. Oxfam and others certainly expose the exploitation of people in the developing world. Yet their ambition of persuading the corporations, the WTO and the World Bank to function "ethically" has failed, as the statistics of life and death show. Changing the fundamentals is patently more challenging a project than giving aid on an individual basis. But it is impossible to envisage a future worth having for regions like sub-Sahara Africa unless we do. Helping to overturn the status quo would be the best kind of aid you could give.
Paul Feldman, communications editor