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How the Daily Mail lied about aid to a Ghanian village

By Paul Cotterill
July 4th 2012




Journalist Ian Birrell recently went to Ghana to follow up on a story about an American aid organisation, and British funding for it.

The headline screams: “How your money is being squandered: The African village where EVERY family is getting £7,500 from the British taxpayer”

The story concerns this five year project in Northern Ghana, and a quick perusal of the Business Case shows that the nineteen word headline contains three lies.

1) The project is not in an African village. It covers 30 villages (see map on page 5 of Business Case)

2) The £7,500 per household figure is based, in the subsequent article, on the total 5 year project budget of £17.2 million divided by 2,250 households. But the 2, 250 figure has been dug out of the business case for those households where there will be “substantial poverty reduction”. Page 1 of the Business Case gives the real figure: “Up to 30,000 people will benefit directly from improved services and increased opportunities”.

3) The total value of the project is £17.2 million, of which £11.5 million comes from British Aid. The Business Case makes clear (para. 48) that the rest will come from the Ghanaian government ($4.5 million) and from the local communities through cash or in-kind labour ($3.0 million).

Taking 2) and 3) together, the cost of the five year project to the British aid budget is roughly £1,700 per household, less than a quarter of the figure in the headline.

Now, there is no doubt that this is still an expensive project in usual aid terms, not least because it has built into it “robust” independent monitoring and evaluation costing more than £1 million and higher than usual local management costs, which reflect the emphasis on developing local government and university capacity.

There are very valid doubts about the ‘big push’ (para. 23) approach. The project, after all, is about testing whether this method, in which the kitchen sink of aid is thrown at very poor areas, is more effective than less targeted, less intensive approaches (or indeed than on aid at all).

There are also very valid questions, of the type set out by Matt Collinn at Aid Thoughts and others, being asked about the dodgy use of data to justify the claims about the Millennium Villages’ success in other areas.

But one poor aid project does not mean that aid is poor. To argue such, as Birell does, is the equivalent of saying that surgery should be stopped if one operation goes wrong, or that air travel should cease because one type of aircraft is found to be unsafe.

Questioning aid effectiveness is to be welcomed, if it is done properly and responsibly. For Birrell to get out and about in Ghana to see for himself what’s happening is valid too. He’s a proper journalist, as far as I can tell and the article does give evidence of some journalistic nouse.

What is not valid, though, is for the Daily Mail simply to tell lies.

Originally published by Liberal conspiracy

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