by Murray White A SUMMER campaign has been launched by the aid agencies to head off feared cuts in overseas aid as the government tries to cut back on spending.
Nine leading Third World charities, including CAFOD and Christian Aid, this week wrote to their supporters urging them to lobby Parliament to protect spending commitments to poor countries abroad.
The campaign aims tor repeat last year's successful efforts which saw off threatened cuts in the 1993-4 aid budget. But pressure has mounted within the Treasury to tackle the growing public spending deficit, with ministers looking at all departments to make savings. It is thought that the Cabinet could decide where to make cuts within the next month, so that they will have time to smooth their passage in the autumn.
Indications from Westminster are that the aid budget will be, at best, frozen a cut in real terms, say the aid agencies, as there would be no extra to take account of inflation.
A CAFOD briefing document circulated this week points out that at last year's Rio Earth Summit, Prime Minister John Major announced that planned aid spending for 1994-5 would be £1,975 million, Within three months that figure had already been revised down to £1.9 million, the same as this year. Competition from large lobby groups keen to preserve levels of pensions and child benefit make it more likely that overseas aid could be targeted, according to CAFOD director Julian Filochowski.
He said that supporters should show that the "poorest of the poor" had someone to speak up for them, and urged them to "act quickly vital decisions will be taken in the next four weeks".
The agencies argue that only £100 million extra would be needed immediately, provided that this is especially targeted to the areas most in need and to projects that will ensure longer term selfreliance rather than dependency.
Africa is highlighted as an area that needs particular attention. Drought put 40 million people at risk last year, and the continent spends £6 billion on debt repayments every year. Targeted aid "should meet the needs of the poorest and those without access to resources and decision making, particularly women and minority peoples," say the agencies.
"To have lasting effects, aid needs to address the cause of the problem, not just the symptoms. It should take into account other factors like debt repayments and unfair trading systems."
The aid charities have long criticised UK aid for contributing less than half the UN target of 0.7 per cent of Gross National Product. By 1991 UK aid had fallen to two-thirds of its 1979 value.