The impact of UK overseas aid on environmental protection and climate change adaptation and mitigation

Written evidence submitted by Richard Whittell, independent researcher

· "Agriculture controlled by the agribusiness corporations, the squeezing of rural resources to subsidise industry, massive displacement and pauperization by industrial/pro-rich infrastructural projects are the main reasons for "poverty and backwardness". The DFID, along with other "aid" agencies actively promotes this model of "development", which might be more accurately called a model of expropriation, or – more simply - theft. The DFID is part of the problem and it is outrageous hypocrisy for it to pretend to be part of the solution. They tie you up and burgle your house through the back door and then arrive at the front door with much fanfare to provide a few sops as "relief"! … industrial capitalism has proved to be ecologically unsustainable, and a cancer that is consuming the planet. Why should we have any more of it?" [1]

1. This submission is based on the ‘Dodgy Development’ series of films and transcribed interviews, by myself and Eshwarappa M, a photographer and film-maker from Bangalore, Karnataka, recently published by Corporate Watch as a book and DVD (see here).

2. Between 2008 and 2010 we travelled independently across India to DFID focus states Madhya Pradesh, Orissa, West Bengal and Andhra Pradesh, as well as Karnataka and Delhi. We interviewed more than 200 people affected by a range of DFID-supported projects and programmes. We spoke to people whose views had not been sought or considered by the DFID. Speaking to farmers, low income workers, parents, children, teachers, engineers, academics, campaigners and journalists, it soon became clear that there was a significant number of people whose experiences of British aid contrasted sharply with the DFID's publicity and reports. Serious questions were raised regarding the DFID’s attitude and accountability to those people it claimed to be supporting and the detrimental effects of its policies and projects on people’s public services, their lands, natural resources and the environment, and their national and state governance.

3. I would urge the Committee to read the interviews and watch the films, a selection of which are attached as annexes here, and request oral submissions from the people in them. Their direct contributions would give a context, depth, analysis and, crucially, personal experience of the issues addressed that is beyond me or other British researchers, development experts or NGOs.

4. This memorandum gives examples from the research mainly concerning the first two focus areas of the committee: whether UK aid avoids exacerbating environmental degradation and worsening climate change and how well the aid programme manages the tensions between boosting economic growth and environmental protection. To do this, the submission will look at the DFID’s contribution to governance reform and the expansion of industry in Orissa, its impact on public sector reform, and finally its programmes encouraging sustainable livelihoods.

Governance reform: Orissa

(please refer to the interviews in Annex 1 and the ‘Let them come’ film on the DVD)

5. Two of the DFID’s stated priorities in India are "strengthening the capacity of government to develop and implement pro-poor policies; and strengthening the accountability of government to those it represents" and, "promoting sustainable management of the earth’s resources." It goes on to add, "Environmental issues are always taken into consideration during the design and implementation of our programmes and projects" [2]

6. It has had most influence in the north-eastern state of Orissa, one of the poorest in the country. In 2000 the DFID, with the World Bank, came to Orissa and signed an aide memoire with the Government of Orissa. The document explained:

"The purpose of the mission was to resume discussions with the Government of Orissa about a potential adjustment loan from the World Bank, with possible DFID co-financing, in support of a programme of fiscal adjustment and major structural reform in Orissa … The main conclusion of the mission is that the severe fiscal crisis facing the Government of Orissa provides an opportunity to undertake a programme to reform the business and direction of government." [3]

7. One of the first reforms to come from this was the Industrial Policy Resolution, which the DFID co-wrote with the Government of Orissa and UNIDO in 2001. The DFID’s review of the industrial policy in 2008 notes that:

"Orissa’s share of India’s total investment has increased from 4.3% in March 2003 to nearly 11% at the end of 2007. The total value of all investments is estimated at £75 billion. Most of these investments are in mineral based industries such as aluminium, steel and associated captive power generation" and goes on to note that, "the project has been instrumental in strengthening the Government of Orissa’s (GoO) capacity to facilitate large scale private sector investment."

8. The vast majority of this investment has come from multinational mining companies. This has provoked resistance throughout the state, especially from people who would be displaced from the lands to make way for the companies. In the ‘Let them come’ film people describe why they will not leave their lands. Abhay Sahoo, secretary of the campaign to stop the South Korean companies taking the lands of 4,000 families (which has recently been heavily criticised by a investigative panel of the Environment Ministry), explains the environmental consequences of POSCO’s entrance:

9. "You see, we are not against industrialisation but industrialisation at the cost of a guaranteed agricultural economy. This area is a coastal area with very sweet sand, underground sweet water and it is full of sand dunes. The coast of the Bay of Bengal has a very special kind of sandy soil. People have been growing betel vine there which happens to be a most profitable item of agriculture and is an employment generating agriculture. It gives a very handsome income to the cultivator’s family, and provides both direct and indirect employment. So people do not want to part with the betel vine cultivation. In addition, it is producing foreign currency for the state exchequer as it is an item of export. Apart from betel vine, people have cashew nuts which are also profitable items and apart from everything else, people have a very dense forest and a very beautiful ecology. So the people of the area have been struggling tooth and nail and heart to safeguard their motherland and fertile soil. It will be a very serious ecological catastrophe."

10. Similar views are held throughout the state and the DFID's role in the reforms – which have significantly reduced the state’s role as a welfare provider - provoked widespread protest from the people of the state. Journalist Sudhir Pattnaik explains:

"We call Orissa a DfID colony. This is not acceptable to anybody who has a sense of democracy. We do not accept a foreign government department coming here and dictating and influencing government departments to do this and to do that. And if you come to the core point, what is their understanding of development in Orissa? If you see the kind of development happening in Orissa, it means developing only industries, mineral-based industries. How many people in the state will benefit from this?"

It is also noted that the companies will pay very little tax, as many of them are to operate in tax-free ‘Special Economic Zones’, and will not provide employment for all the people they are to displace.

11. Dr Abani Baral, a Head Teacher, who was involved in a popular campaign against the DFID’s reforms, describes how:

"the so-called structural adjustment programme massacred the existing public system in the poor state of Orissa … The World Bank and the DFID said they were coming to assist the development of Orissa. They did not say they were coming to paralyse the entire administrative structure … The DFID is not helping the poor people in Orissa."

12. While the review of the policy states concern for the environmental consequences and says: "there are growing efforts towards strong and effective environmental regulation to manage the potential impacts of a large number of mineral based industries coming up in the State," the most effective check on the ‘potential impacts’ so far have been the resistance of people living on the land, who are directly opposing policies encouraged and funded by British aid. While the environment is referenced in many of the DFID’s projects in Orissa, and there has been some support for more environmentally friendly activities such as fisheries, had the reforms it helped design and fund been implemented as planned, the state’s carbon emissions would be vastly increased and the environment and ecology degraded.

Public sector reform

(please refer to the interviews in Annex 2 and the ‘Power for the People’ and 'A DFID Education' film on the accompanying DVD)

13. Throughout the areas in which it works people argued to us that the DFID has tried, wherever possible, to introduce commercial market principles into public services through its reforms. With the Government of India having chosen to prioritise the demands of large scale businesses and corporations in its development agenda, this has often been to the detriment of pro-poor development and environmental sustainability.

14. In the power sector for example, which the DFID argues is "the starting point for change" to make governments more pro-poor and environmentally sustainable, its reforms were described by the then secretary of the Madhya Pradesh Engineers’ and Employees’ union as:

"based on cutting the cost of the supply, not the needs of the people …When a commodity is charged on the basis of cost of supply, the electricity is supplied in bulk to the big consumers such as the industrial sector. For any product the cost of bulk supply is much less than the cost of retail supply. In Madhya Pradesh, the geographical spread is high and farmers are scattered throughout the state. Low tension lines feed the farmer. On the low tension lines the technical losses are high. So it follows the law of physics: the law of physics says that as the low tension line length increases the technical losses will be higher. This resultantly implies that the farmers and the domestic consumers will have to be charged higher rates. This was a precondition of the reforms that were brought in, that were supported and advocated by the consultants engaged by agencies such as the DFID.

15. In the accompanying film, people living in slums and rural areas describe how the prices they have to pay for electricity have risen astronomically and they have been disconnected when they have not been able to pay.

16. Describing the education programmes supported by the DFID, Dr Nirnajan Aradhya says:

"what we need to create is not just a skilled person for the market economy. These larger questions are not even being talked about and the [DFID funded programme] is not at all a solution to them. It is in fact a multi-layered, fragmented programme with no vision. It is not a programme for building a national system of education. It’s not conceived on the principles of social justice and equity."

17. Professor Anil Sadgopal asks, after critiquing the programmes supported by the DFID:

"why is [the DFID] supporting an inferior quality education programme? … Why is it not telling our government, go back to your constitution and follow it? Because the DFID is part of the global market system. Its objective is not education. Its objective is to develop the global market."

Participation and empowerment

(please refer to the interviews in Annex 3 and the ‘Smile for the Camera’ and 'False Promises' films on the accompanying DVD)

17. The DFID describes its livelihood projects in India as "promoting sustainable livelihoods for poor rural people, and encouraging the rehabilitation of environmentally degraded land with the active participation of local people, particularly those normally excluded" [4] . An example of this is the Madhya Pradesh Rural Livelihoods Project (MPRLP). We visited areas affected by the project’s encouragement of the jatropha biodiesel, cultivation of which a DFID funded study argued would "progressively generate skills and also lead to a variety of environmental benefits." [5]

18. However, such claims were disputed by people with experience of the project, as can be seen in the ‘Smile for the Camera’ film. In addition, Bijay Pandey, the Secretary of the Adivasi Mukti Sangathan, a people’s organisation working in Western Madhya Pradesh for the rights of Adivasis explains:

"the food question [in Madhya Pradesh] is very serious, and that is precisely why people are migrating, and the whole of western Madhya Pradesh, the Adivasi areas, are malnourished .. And now, [laughing], the government is promoting jatropha in what they call the wasteland. Initially, they said this jatropha will be cultivated in the wasteland. Now, one must understand the concept of the wasteland: poor people generally depend on some sort of cultivation on this wasteland, so when it is taken away, for this kind of cultivation, you can understand what the food situation will be."

19. The jatropha cultivation is only part of the project but perhaps more concerning is that the majority of people we spoke to said they had not been consulted by the project, as can be seen in the accompanying film, ‘Smile for the Camera’.

20. Bijay Pandey continues:

"If you ask people in the project they will tell you they are doing whatever the gram sabha [the village council of all the people over the age of 18] suggests … They say whatever the gram sabha says they follow, but they are saying wrong things. It is never done: they in fact ask people to take it, they persuade people. They have employed some people and taken the help of NGOs [non-governmental organisations], who are involved in this persuading and popularising. They identify the sarpanch [the village ‘headman’] and they persuade him … Through their [the DFID’s] funding they will create a disparity: only some people will benefit from it. You will find that the people they are working with will grow at the cost of other people in the village."

21. Such working practices clearly do not encourage ‘sustainable management of the earth’s resources’ certainly not in any ‘pro-poor’ sense and are a feature of the DFID’s projects. Madhuri Krishnaswammy, a member of the Jagrit Adivasi Dalit Sangathan (JADS), a Dalit and Adivasi community organisation based in Madhya Pradesh, raises such concerns from personal experience:

"It’s a mystery to us how the DFID helps people "realize their rights more effectively in a sustained manner". Every time the people try to realize their rights and protect their livelihood there is a police crackdown. DFID projects like the Madhya Pradesh Rural Livelihoods Project don’t even scratch the surface of poverty. They don’t address any real need and don’t aim at any fundamental change. All they do is throw some money about, most of which is grabbed by project staff and local elites which further fuels a deeply entrenched nexus of corruption and violence. At the very best, they give a few individuals a little support and send everyone else in the community scrambling and quarrelling for the crumbs. Our members are in constant conflict with the project because there is no transparency or accountability in the implementation. Where there is no conflict, it is because the project is considered irrelevant to people’s lives."


22. I have put specific questions to the DFID regarding these issues. Their replies are attached in Appendix 4. Unfortunately, their replies do little other than re-state already existing material on their website and in their policy documents. The interviews and films that have been published on the internet have been sent to them for comment but, at the time of writing, no reply has been received. As far as I know, they have made no attempt to contact any of the interviewees in the films or interviews.

23. There is little in the proposals of the Coalition Government to suggest there will be any substantive change in this approach, and the promise to, ‘make British international development policy more focused on boosting economic growth and wealth creation’, suggests there will be a more explicit focus on private sector led development. Under the present Government, with the reforms that it has already been introduced in the UK, I have little hope that the DFID will act in the interests of environmental sustainability over its term in office. Any positive outcomes that can be claimed from investment the DFID has made in adaptation technology or vaccination programmes are undermined by the consistent disregard it has shown for the views and agency of the people it claims to be supporting. In the case of India, the majority of people we spoke to agreed with the opinion quoted in the summary, that "the DFID is part of the problem and it is outrageous hypocrisy for it to pretend to be part of the solution", and as such demanded it quit India immediately.

24. The best recommendation I can put forward to the Committee is to contact the people from the interviews and films and request that they give oral submissions. If the Committee is serious about assessing the impact of UK overseas aid on environmental protection and climate change adaptation and mitigation, it would do well to speak to people that have been directly affected by it.

28 January 2011

[1] Madhuri Krishnaswammy, a member of the Jagrit Adivasi Dalit Sangathan (JADS), a Dalit and Adivasi community organisation based in rural Madhya Pradesh


[2] Department for International Development, DFID in India: Factsheet , [no date].

[3] From the Aide Memoire of the World Bank and the DFID’s Technical Economic Mission to Orissa, May 8th-13th 2000

[4] Department for International Development, DFID in India: Factsheet , [no date].

[5] Vision Document on Biofuels for Madhya Pradesh, Department for International Development India, Technical Cooperation Project Support Unit for the Madhya Pradesh Rural Livelihoods Project Phase 2 (2008)