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Illustration by Spencer Wilson

How to save aid

Catastrophic cuts have come at a moment of humanitarian crisis. But aid won’t be saved until we rethink what it is for

By Mark Hellowell & Sabastine Wakdok  

Writing over 200 years ago, Adam Smith asked how “a man of humanity” would react to a catastrophe in a far-off land. “If he was to lose his little finger tomorrow, he would not sleep tonight.” And yet, with enough distance from the event, he would “snore with the most profound security over the ruin of a hundred million of his brethren.” 

In December, a UN report estimated that Covid-19 will push not 100m people, but 200m—mostly in Africa—into extreme poverty. This will bring the total living below the generally accepted breadline (calculated at $1.93 a day) to one billion. 

Most people would agree that is a catastrophe, so how will we react? Well, not by providing more aid, it would seem. At present, Britain is the only G7 country to spend at least 0.7 per cent of national income on overseas development assistance. But it will…

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