Almost 6,000 homes have been flooded already in Britain’s wettest January in at least 250 years, and more damage is likely on the way with another storm blowing in this weekend.
Amid criticism of David Cameron’s government for what some see as a sluggish and inadequate response to the storm, a second debate has opened up over an idea floated by Nigel Farage—leader of the U.K. Independence Party—and championed by the Daily Mail, to raid the country’s foreign aid budget to pay for flood relief.
Foreign aid is always an easy populist target in any country, and Farage and the Mail have picked a politically smart time to score some points. But for one thing it’s not really clear that a lack of available funds was the reason for the authorities’ slow response to the flooding.
British aid, in conjunction with that of other countries, has contributed to a number of worthy goals, including giving millions of people access to clean drinking water and vaccines for diseases like polio. As Memphis Barker of the Independent argues, gutting Britain’s foreign aid program merely because of a domestic disaster is a bad idea, “because suffering in Somerset is mild compared to that in Bangladesh. Because there’s already plenty of money in and political attention on these floods. And because although Britain’s attempts to reduce poverty aren’t perfect, we owe the world more than a turned back.”
Moreover, there’s the fact that millions of pounds of Britain’s aid budget is actually spent within the country. There are also other resources Britain has yet to tap, including an EU Solidarity Fund that it has paid into and countries including Portugal, Greece, and even Germany—Europe’s wealthiest country—have used during natural disasters. Even Farage—Britain’s leading euroskeptic—supports Britain using the funds, pointing out, “It’s our money anyway.”
As for the Mail, given the quantity of nonsense it has promoted in an effort to discredit the idea of climate change over the years, it’s not hard to see this as a bid to change the subject now that a good portion of the country is underwater.