As the momentum for Live 8 gathers pace and the pressure on international leaders to deal with Africa's problems mounts, Max Lawson argues the case for doubling aid.
By Max Lawson
Policy advisor, Oxfam
The first people to be hit if aid to Africa were cut would be the millions caught up in conflict or natural disasters who are being sustained by emergency relief.
Aid is a life support system for those struck by famine and disaster
They are the people who have lost everything and endured suffering on a scale that is hard to imagine.
In Sudan, for example, two million people have fled their homes in Darfur and are struggling to survive in one of the world's bleakest, most inhospitable places.
The aid they receive - water, medicines, shelter, food - is provided by Western governments, the United Nations and non-governmental organisations such as Oxfam.
This kind of aid keeps people alive and tries to maintain their dignity as human beings.
IF... WE STOP GIVING AID TO AFRICA
Sunday, 26 June, 2005
It is a life support system - and everyone knows what happens when a life support machine is switched off.
But short-term emergency aid - while more often on our television screens - is far from the whole picture.
Long-term development aid to Africa is less visible, but it counts for a much bigger chunk of global aid spending. The bulk of it is given by Western governments.
At its best, this kind of aid can play a vital role in helping poor countries to work their way out of poverty.
I am thinking of a six-year-old girl called Lucy, neatly dressed in a green school uniform, picking her way through the litter and sewage-strewn alleyways of Mathare, one of Kenya's most notorious slums.
Thanks to British aid, Lucy and hundreds of children like her have escaped the violent streets of Nairobi where children as young as six are known to have contracted HIV and Aids.
Thanks to British aid, Lucy is in primary school and has the chance of a life.
In Tanzania, Uganda, Malawi, and Zambia, as well as Kenya, millions of children are now going to school, because of money provided by international aid and debt relief.
And education, it is widely agreed, is one of the most powerful weapons against poverty.
In Ethiopia, farmers are now using roads built with foreign aid to reach local and international markets to sell their crops more easily.
Children in rural areas can get to school, and more people can make it to a clinic or hospital - often the difference between life and death.
International aid has been essential in rebuilding countries shattered by war.
In Mozambique, it supported a process of national reconciliation, peacefully repatriating nearly two million refugees, disarming almost 100,000 former soldiers, and clearing landmines.
Of course aid is not the only answer to Africa's development. The continent's farmers also need fairer terms of trade for their produce, whether it is cotton, sugar, rice or coffee.
For every dollar they receive in aid they still lose two because of unfair trade.
But it is not an "either or" situation with aid and trade.
In order for people in Africa to trade effectively and play a full part in the global economy, they need to be educated and healthy, and have access to markets via roads and ports.
That is where aid comes in.
There are those who blame Africa's poverty on a failure of aid. Certainly the way aid has been given in the past has been flawed.
Too often it has served the interests of those giving it rather than Africa's poorest, propping up "friendly" African governments during the Cold War for example.
Even today it could be much improved, to focus more on the Africa's very poorest, but it is moving in the right direction.
And of course, for aid to work properly, African governments receiving it must be committed to improving life for their poorest citizens.
Aid can play its part here too, in strengthening African government institutions, funding the fight against corruption, empowering African civil society groups to call their own governments to account.
In Malawi, for example, education groups funded by Oxfam now check whether schools receive the textbooks and chalk promised to them in the government budget, and they report their findings in the media and in parliament.
Democracy is steadily spreading in sub-Saharan Africa, with elections in 44 out of 50 countries in the past decade.
Independent television and radio stations are being established across the continent.
Aid can play a major role in strengthening this trend.
It can also - by funding small loan schemes as Oxfam does in countries as far apart as Rwanda and Mauritania - foster the incredible entrepreneurial drive in Africa.
If aid to Africa were cut, all this would be dead in the water.
Rich country aid to Africa currently stands at around $23bn (around £13bn) a year, hardly a lot of money when you compare it to the billions spent on the war in Iraq.
Aid now needs to be doubled if Africa is to tackle poverty head-on. Its debts need to be cancelled and the rules of world trade made fair.
Only then will Africa have a fair chance to compete.
Only then will Africa's outstanding human potential and natural riches really come into their own.
This article was written to coincide with BBC Two's If... We Stop Giving Aid to Africa, to be broadcast on Sunday, 26 June, 2005, at 1900 BST on BBC Two.