EU aid to Africa badly spent, British inquiry hears

Somali mothers and children The inquiry is looking into whether aid to Africa could have been better spent

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A British parliamentary inquiry has heard that more than $650m ( £420m) worth of European Union aid to Africa may have been badly spent.

The House of Lords Committee on External Affairs is looking into about $1.3bn worth of water projects in sub-Saharan Africa during the past decade.

Fewer than half of a sample of 23 projects met poor people's needs, the committee heard from EU auditors.

The problems ranged from the planning stages to the projects' implementation.

Analysis

In the hallowed atmosphere of the House of Lords - all oak-panelled walls and leather seats - the questioning was of course polite.

Their Lordships had, after all, invited the EU watchdogs - the auditors who had spilled the beans - not those who had wasted the money.

But I still expected a bit of outrage - after all, EU money is partly UK taxpayers' cash.

But there was none - more a series of rather vague questions.

Lord Jopling asked the most revealing question, and got the most revealing answer.

He asked Mr Bostock if the reaction of Eurocrats to his revelations could be characterised by "a grimace and a yawn".

Mr Bostock replied, in a roundabout way: "Yes".

Auditor David Bostock told the committee that his sample study was fairly representative of the water aid worth over $1.3bn (£800m) that had been undertaken by the EU in the past 10 years.

A spokesperson for the European Commission said that in most projects, several needs were identified of which at least one or more were met. A lot of projects were very ambitious and some needs, mainly secondary ones, were not fulfilled, the spokesperson said.

Water aid projects are usually a combination of supplying clean water and, equally importantly, building toilets that stop the spread of disease.

The auditors found that the equipment managers chose - like pumps and pipes - was, on the whole, appropriate.

The problems came in the sustainability of the projects.

In some cases, not enough local people were trained in how to maintain the necessary equipment - so after a few years it just stopped being used.

But the biggest problem was finance - or getting long-term agreement from the communities and governments of poorer countries on how the water supply would be funded.

The BBC's International Development correspondent Mark Doyle says that unless such agreements are made, and then stuck to, there is a danger that European aid money could continue to be badly spent.

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