Is the wealthy world turning its back on the world’s poor?
Recent figures on aid spending released by the OECD show global aid spending has been cut for the first time in 14 years, down in real terms by 2.7 per cent (or $3.27 billion) to $130bn.
This means wealthy countries are spending just 0.31 per cent of their collective national income – or 31 cents in every $100 – on aid.
And it means hundreds of thousands of people living in poverty will go without life-saving medicines, and many more children will continue to live without access to clean water or adequate sanitation.
The biggest cuts, not surprisingly, were made by Greece and Spain with Austria and Belgium also slashing budgets.
Rich countries are now even further off-track from meeting their promise to invest 0.7 per cent of their national income in the world’s poorest people.
Oxfam’s analysis shows that at the current rate, donor countries as a group will not hit the UN’s target of 0.7 per cent for 50 years.
It’s not all doom and gloom. Norway, Denmark and Luxembourg still meet their pledge to give more than 0.7 per cent of their national income in aid, and Germany and Sweden have increased their aid budgets.
Importantly, just recently the British government reaffirmed its determination to enshrine in law the commitment to 0.7 per cent of its national income to overseas aid.
Despite the dire economic situation in Britain leading to massive cuts in government spending, the aid budget has been quarantined from the razor gang.
This act has the support of all three major parties.
British PM David Cameron has said: “There is a strong moral case for keeping our promises to the world’s poorest and helping them even when we face challenges at home.”
Australia has been another bright spot.
While this country ranks only 13th on the aid spending league table up from our previous position at No 15 our aid budget is increasing.
And the government – backed by the Coalition – has a clear trajectory for increasing aid spending.
If the reported delays to Australia’s foreign aid budget become a reality, it will be a cruel blow to the world’s poor.
Australia devotes just 0.35 per cent of its national income to overseas aid – well below the OECD’s average of 0.46 per cent. The bipartisan target is 0.5 per cent by 2015-16.
All the signs are that Wayne Swan’s budget next month will be a tough one.
Hard choices are being made as the government strives to meet its pledge to deliver a budget surplus.
Australia’s finances are not in the same condition as those in Europe. Times are tough but, as the Treasurer is fond of saying, Australia has less government debt and smaller budget deficits than any of the major advanced economies.
In this context, and with the knowledge that each day 4000 children die because of preventable diarrhoea, a delay to aid increases would be difficult to justify.
Every minute counts in our efforts to save lives.
This budget will test the strength of Australia’s convictions – and commitment – to help the world’s poorest.
Aid supporters are not asking for anything more than that Julia Gillard delivers on her promise.
This opinion editorial was first published in The Australian on 23 April 2012.