The large drop in Australia’s overseas aid spending, revealed in new OECD figures announced overnight, is very concerning, international aid agency Oxfam Australia said today.
The figures show Australia’s aid spending fell 1.4 per cent in 2009, to just 0.29 per cent of gross national income (GNI), well short of the 0.34 per cent promised by the Australian Government.
Oxfam Australia Executive Director Andrew Hewett said the drop in aid spending comes at a time when the World Bank has forecast that 50,000 more children in Sub-Saharan African countries may have died this year because of the financial crisis.
“Australia spends far less than many other developed countries on overseas development aid. This includes countries that were hit much harder by the global financial crisis than we were. For instance, Britain spent 0.52 per cent of its GNI on aid in 2009,” Mr Hewett said.
The Government has explained the drop in aid spending by saying that previous figures were inflated by debt relief extended to Iraq and has said that it will still meet its promised aid spending.
Oxfam has welcomed that commitment, but is now concerned about how the Government will reach its target of spending of 0.5 per cent of GNI on aid by 2015.
“This fall in aid spending now makes it essential that the Government outlines a detailed timeline as part of the upcoming Federal Budget to show how it will keep its promise,” Mr Hewett said.
“Both the Government and the Opposition have promised they will meet this target, but given how far aid spending has slipped, we are worried about how they are going to get there.
“We are also concerned that it seems that the Government will divert part of its already small aid budget into projects that are not specifically aimed at reducing poverty, and which should be financed from other sources.
“At the moment it looks like the Australian Government will repackage part of its aid money in this year’s budget and put it towards climate change financing. Funding to help developing countries deal with the effects of climate change is needed but must be in addition to existing aid commitments. Otherwise we are forcing developing countries to choose between building hospitals or building flood defences,” Mr Hewett said. “In most cases, developing countries contributed least to climate change, and are already dealing with its effects.”
Delivered well, aid saves lives. New research published on Monday in the Lancet medical journal revealed that maternal deaths have fallen worldwide, from over half a million a year in 1980 to less than 350,000 in 2008.
“The heartening fall in global maternal mortality comes in large part because of well-targeted aid spending. Australia must do more to demonstrate it is serious about its aid spending when there are such rich rewards to be won in the fight against poverty,” Mr Hewett said.
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