British territories devastated by Hurricane Irma cannot tap into the £13 billion foreign aid budget because they are “too wealthy” under official international criteria.
Organization for Economic Cooperation (OECD) criteria enshrined in UK law means that the British Treasury will have to foot the aid bill to Anguilla, Turks and Caicos and the British Virgin Islands, rather than the Department for International Aid.
Total UK aid has reached £57 million so far. Officials claim many millions more will be needed to help with reconstruction.
The Department for International Aid denied that its response to the crisis had been affected by any budgetary considerations. In a statement to the BBC, it said: “This is an unprecedented disaster. It is absolutely right that the UK responds immediately to the people affected.
“This has been our primary focus and continues to be our priority. We are looking at how current overseas aid rules apply to disasters such as this one.”
There are very strict international rules around what officially counts as foreign aid, making it clear that only the poorest countries can receive what is known as official development assistance or ODA.
The OECD has confirmed that Anguilla, Turks and Caicos and the British Virgin Islands do not qualify for this official aid as their national incomes are too high.
A minister told the BBC that this has made it harder for the government to raise funds needed, and claimed five times as much money would have been available if the official pot of aid could have been used.
“These millions [announced by the government] are non-ODA, therefore they come from rather scanty resources. This great pot of ODA, necessary for development, needs to be spent on crises like this and we have to find a way of doing it,” the source said.
The news came as it was announced the UK plans to provide a further £25 million in aid to the hurricane-wrecked British overseas territories, on top of the £32 million already pledged. Prime Minister Theresa May announced the extra funds as Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson made a visit to the British Caribbean islands.
Johnson told reporters: “It is clear this place has been through an absolutely hellish experience and there is no doubt at all that you need help with power generation, with getting the hospital back up and running, getting the airport back up and running, and schools properly set – all kinds of things need to be done.”