UNICEF Australia Director of Communications and Advocacy Tim O'Connor replies to Hugh White:
Two more points of contention, Hugh. You assert '...poverty is eliminated by economic growth, and aid does little or nothing to support that. Nor can it do much to change the distribution of wealth in a society'.
I'd say getting an extra 58 million children into school in the last decade, ensuring 1 billion children have been immunised against disease over the same period and bringing the world to the brink of wiping out polio counter the suggestion that aid doesn't eliminate poverty.
Aid, when used most effectively, challenges societal impediments (eg. of limited education and poor health) that trap individuals and families in the cycle of poverty. Giving people the tools to free themselves from this cycle by improving their skills and consequently their earning potential whilst reducing the burden of disease upon them and their carers are very significant 'elevators' out of poverty.
And secondly, suggesting Australia is 'treating Indonesia as a charity case' simply because we allocate aid there is ham-fisted reasoning.
Having spent a good deal of time throughout Indonesia over the past fifteen years, it's impossible not to see the economic achievements. Yet your antediluvian conceptualization of aid being about 'charity' belongs in the dreamtime and illustrates the misconception existing amongst certain foreign policy 'hard heads' that consistently fails to reflect the economic and social value of aid (not withstanding its security and trade benefits, which are discussed here).
It's contentious that aid was ever about charity (you may recall aid being used as somewhat of a carrot and stick throughout the cold war, for instance) but aid can only be conceived to be about charity if you perceive that a child doesn't deserve to be immunised against polio or a mother doesn't deserve to have medical support at the birth of her child simply because of where they are born.
The momentum being gained in the battle against poverty is undoubted. Economic growth is important but aid plays a crucial role in an additional 4 million children surviving every year (similarly, the number of pregnancies a woman has is inversely proportional to the number of years formal education she receives; ie. more education = less kids). We are making real progress and aid is not the only answer to improving economic growth, but it is crucial to ensuring the gap between the haves and have-nots narrows and that everyone shares the fruits of global development.