Today I want to deliver a message from the new Coalition Government of Britain directly to the millions of Indians who are battling against poverty and disease.
Our message is this: the people and Government of Britain are on your side, and we will use every tool in our policy armoury — aid, trade, climate policy, diplomacy, business investment, and more — to champion fairness and prosperity for you.
It is worth reminding ourselves of the scale of the challenge that confronts us. Globally, over eight million children die before the age of five each year. More than 70 million children are missing out on primary education. A fifth of global child and maternal deaths, and cases of TB occur in India. Over 40 per cent of children in India are underweight and a child dies every 15 minutes from easily-preventable diseases.
Clearly, we must act, and act now, to right these wrongs and end this terrible waste of human potential. But we can't escape the fact that in Britain, today's economic situation is radically different from what has gone before. The UK has a massive deficit, which it is our number one priority to tackle.
Of course, there are those who argue that in these difficult times aid and aspiration are inevitable casualties of austerity. I disagree. This is a time to reaffirm our promises to the world's and India's poor people, not abandon them. We won't balance the books on the backs of the world's poorest.
We have resolved, in our Coalition programme for government, to honour our commitment to spend 0.7 per cent of Gross National Income on overseas aid from 2013, and to enshrine this commitment in law. We will keep aid untied from commercial interests, and continue to focus, via the U.K. Department for International Development (DFID), on reducing poverty.
The philosophy of empowerment will be central to our approach. We want people in developing countries to be masters and owners of the international development system, not passive recipients of it.
For instance, many aid agencies are testing options that involve giving control to citizens through direct cash transfers. I want us to explore that for ourselves. And where cash is not appropriate, we'll look at other measures that involve participation, choice, and self-determination. India shows just how effective this can be.
But capable and effective states are also vital. Here too, we'll put the power in the hands of developing countries rather than dictating activity from a distance.
Linked to this theme are other, wider opportunities for empowerment. The sort of power that enables citizens to hold their governments to account. Through the Right to Information Act, India is leading the way by enshrining in law its citizens' right to information from their government.
In future, when we give money directly to governments in developing countries, we want to earmark up to five per cent of the total amount to help parliaments, civil society and audit bodies hold to account those who spend their money.
If empowerment is a key component of development, so too is transparency. Transparency for the U.K. taxpayer and transparency for the poor. This is why I'm pleased to announce a new U.K. Aid Transparency Guarantee that will help to create a million independent aid watchdogs — people around the world who can see where aid money is supposed to be going and shout if it doesn't get there.
The Guarantee commits us to publishing full information about DFID projects and programmes, including our work in India, on our website (www.dfid.gov.uk) — in a way that is user-friendly and meaningful. Over time, we want to make that information available, in an open and standardised format to the people who depend on the funding: the communities and families living in developing countries. Knowledge is indeed power.
We will also bring new priorities to the work we do on the ground. Tackling the scandal of maternal mortality is particularly important. Half a million women die during pregnancy and childbirth every year around the world, a figure that has barely fallen in the past two decades in many regions. In India one woman dies in childbirth every seven minutes. So we will continue to strengthen health systems and family planning facilities in India, including taking steps to improve access to well-trained midwives and emergency obstetrics care.
As the new U.K. Secretary of State for International Development I am honoured to take charge of DFID, and I am determined to continue — and improve — our work.
(Andrew Mitchell was appointed U.K. Secretary of State for International Development on 12 May 2010.)