Wednesday, 4 May 2005

More thoughts on Foreign Aid

My recent visit to India was quite an eye-opener. Even for someone who is fairly well travelled, and has had a fairly wide experience of working in the tropics. India is often thought of as a developing country, but nothing could be further from the truth. India is simply a vast area, with a huge range of federated states, which represent a diversity as great as anything found in Europe. Most pople use Hindi or English to communicate, since the languages are so diverse. And India has been intellectually, culturally and technically developed for centuries. It has also been economically developed for centuries -- witness the splendid palaces of the Maharajahs and the temples. And now, westernisation is speeding ahead. One of the unfortunate aspects of westernisation is that much of it is not sustainable, and when there is a population in excess of a billion people, and still growing, this is truly alarming.

Like most other countries, India does not need aid, strictly speaking. The amounts of money given by British and other conservation donors is tiny compared with the wealth of individuals in India. So why should we in England and other parts of the west support the Wildlife Trust of India? To me the answer is fairly straightforward -- by giving support, however modest, it is helping the WTI act. One of the cultural problems within India, is the length of time change takes. The government will act, the huge network of nature reserves created since independence is an indication, but the government is very slow. The funds donated by the WLT and IFAW and other organisations has enabled the WTI to take action speedily, and in India this is vital. The pressures on the remaining wildlfe habitats are excessive, and action is essential NOW, not in three or five years time.

And meanwhile there is a growing level of support from the general public in India. The rising middle classes, brought up on a diet of TV documentaries about wildife, are going to support the conservation of wildlife in the future. So the funding from Britain, should be seen as a stop-gap, helping dynamic young organisations such as the Wildlife Trust of India, get firmly established and self sustaining.

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