Many people in the Netherlands don’t think development cooperation works. Why do you still believe in it?
“People who think that development cooperation does not work are misinformed. Miracles have been performed with development cooperation, but it represents only €0.003 of every euro earned in rich countries. Although this adds to €148 billion a year, it is still no more than €0.13 per person per day when you spread this amount over three billion poor people around the world. You can do very little with 13 cents, and for this reason alone, development cooperation cannot be a game changer.
However, we’re making huge progress on almost all the development goals, primarily due to globalisation. In the 1990s, more and more people, goods and ideas were able to cross boundaries, something that was made even easier by the Internet. Suddenly knowledge, insights, vaccines, drugs, new varieties of seeds, cell phones, micro-credit and jobs in places appeared that we previously did not even know they existed. This globalisation, even though it was also criticised by nationalists and anti-globalists, is the main reason for a big decrease in poverty: in 1990, 1.8 billion people lived in extreme poverty.25 years later, it’s 750 million people.
This was huge progress was accompanied by development cooperation. Building schools, improving health, fighting diseases, mitigating the impact of natural disasters, restarting countries coming out of wars, all influenced governments in the South and public opinion in the West. Development organisations enabled people to live a healthier, safer and smarter life so that they can step out of poverty. “
What have we achieved together in the field of development cooperation?
“To give you one example, massive campaigns have been conducted against measles and malaria. Thanks to these campaigns 600 million malaria patients have been prevented since 2000 and more than 20 million children did not have to die because they have received measles vaccinations. These are just two cases out of thousands.
One of the problems that development organisations face in showing results is that their work is part of broad trends. Over the last 25 years, 2.6 billion people (one-third of the world’s population) gained access to clean water. That’s a huge amount of people. Countless groups put this development into motion: Governments, companies, CSOs and ordinary people in countries like India or Kenya (for example) united to arrange a pump or water. Nobody can claim that success for themselves, but organisations like Simavi contributed by educating and raising awareness amongst millions of people by making policy recommendations, or improving access to clean water. Now these people are much less susceptible to diarrhoea, cholera, dysentery, typhoid and polio and other preventable diseases.”
In light of the forthcoming Dutch elections, what should the role of government be in providing development cooperation?
“Obviously I want people all over the world to live a decent life, and development cooperation contributes to this. I accept that this costs me money. However, two political parties believe that development cooperation should be a matter for private citizens: their position is that helping those who have less is good, but that principle should not be enforced through our taxes. This line of argument continues that the Dutch government cannot compel Dutch taxpayers to give money to help people abroad, therefore if an individual wants to help people in Peru or Burkina Faso, he or she should do so themselves, without any contribution from the government.
The parties promoting this argument do not speak out against helping people, but against the involuntary nature that comes with it. Why should we be forced to help people if we can do that voluntarily? How can we promote freedom in Africa, when it is eliminated in the Netherlands? However, I believe that this reasoning is dodgy. What these arguments ignore is that many of our moral obligations are currently paid off via the government.
Through taxation we force (for example) childless people to pay for the care of children, city dwellers to pay for the quality of life in rural areas and healthy people to pay for the sick. And that goes for development cooperation too. When a majority of the Dutch government believes that we should help people in extreme poverty, the government has to implement this policy. This in line with the wishes of the majority of Dutch people who believe that the Dutch government must help people in poor conditions – as well as most Dutch political parties, who (with two exceptions) have stated that there should either be no further budget cuts for development cooperation or that the development cooperation budget must be raised. Therefore every Dutch voter who believes development cooperation is important can vote with confidence in the majority of the Dutch parties.”