UNIVERSITY OF PENNSYLVANIA - AFRICAN STUDIES CENTER
No Relief in Sight for Humanitarian Aid Dwindling Aid Budgets Will Have Grave Consequences
Humanitarian aid groups from Europe and the United States are warning that steep reductions in foreign aid to developing countries have become an alarming trend in the West that could undermine global stability and rapidly increase the number of people living in absolute poverty.
The warning came as aid groups released a new report, "The Reality of Aid 1995," which shows that aid from the richer countries to the world's poor suffered a substantial decline in 1993 -- falling from $61 billion to $56 billion, a drop of six percent in real terms.
"Taken alone, this worldwide decline is disturbing enough," said Julia Taft, president of InterAction. "But when you consider that the US Congress is now considering an additional 35 percent reduction in development assistance next year, it is not an exaggeration to say that this trend could have catastrophic consequences for hundreds of millions of people."
Taft noted that severe cuts in aid for international programs such as economic development, environmental protection and disease control might pressure other industrialized nations to cut aid by similar proportions.
"If this trend continues, by the turn of the century, the flow of development assistance could be little more than a trickle, exacerbating global threats such as rapid population growth, forced migration and environmental degradation," said Taft, adding that "the AIDS epidemic could worsen and outbreaks of infectious diseases like the Ebola virus will become more likely."
"The Reality of Aid" reports that public opinion polls in countries throughout the industrialized world indicate that most people -- including those in the United States -- support aid to the poorest countries. At the same time, however, government support appears to be declining rapidly.
In spite of commitments to eliminating poverty at the March 1995 Social Summit in Copenhagen, aid as a percentage of donors' GNP fell from 0.33 percent of GNP in 1992 to 0.30 percent in 1993. The US share is equivalent to 0.15 percent -- or one-half the average of other industrialized nations. The United Nations target is 0.7 percent.
Donors also allowed their proportion of government spending to fall from over 2 percent to under 1.8 percent for the first time since 1990. In the United States, the proportion of the federal budget that goes to foreign aid is less than 1 percent. On a per capita basis, the US contribution to development assistance ranks last among all industrialized nations.
According to the report, the US is not the only donor nation considering further aid reductions. Germany is expected to cut aid disbursements by 1.4 percent in 1995; Italian aid for 1995 is 60 percent below its 1992 figure. Canadian aid will decline by 15 percent in 1995/96 and will fall by 21 percent over the three-year period to 1997/98.
Among the traditionally generous donors, the Netherlands has committed to restore aid to 0.9 percent of its GNP by 1998. Sweden has decided to freeze aid at $1.78 billion until the next election -- guaranteeing a real cut in aid over the next three or four years. Denmark and Norway look set to remain the only donors giving over 1 percent.
Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) say they fear increasing marginalization for the least developed countries, particularly in Africa, where reduced aid is likely to mean further environmental degradation, increased poverty, disease, conflict and refugee flows. The human cost will be terrible, and the long term financial cost is likely to outweigh the price of an effective strategy to assist Africa now.
"The Reality of Aid 1995" explains that aid spending not only makes a major contribution to human welfare, it is also a highly cost-effective investment in the future. For example, an additional year of school for 1,000 women in Pakistan at a cost of $30,000 is estimated to increase wages by 20 percent and prevent 60 child deaths, 500 births and 3 maternal deaths.
The increasing share of aid being allocated to emergencies and the growing allocations of aid to debt reduction are substantially reducing the availability of aid for long-term development, according to the report.
Development cooperation has become increasingly sensitive to the links between poverty reduction and gender equality. As 70 percent of the world's poor people are women or girls, any aid agency seriously attempting to fight poverty has no choice but to address women's needs and potential.
Much of the attention to gender, however, remains at the level of rhetoric. Despite near universal recognition that investment in education for women and girls results in better returns than perhaps any other investment, most donors are not yet even reporting their spending on basic education, let alone basic female education.
Donor countries have recognized the global nature of many threats to human security -- including poverty, drugs, environmental degradation, migration and unemployment -- in policy statements and in aid spending. As the distinctions between foreign, defense, development, trade and environment policy diminish, nations are beginning to acknowledge that sustainable development is a matter of both common security and good economics.
It is increasingly clear that development cooperation is in the interests of both rich and poor nations. It is also clear that helping poorer countries is seen as a moral imperative by many people throughout the industrialized world.
"The Reality of Aid" calls for all countries that are reducing aid to reverse the cuts -- and for all donors who have not achieved the UN target to honor commitments by setting firm timetables to reach 0.7 percent. Tony German, one of the principal authors of the report, concludes that: "With the number of people in the world surviving on less than $1 a day still rising -- and clear evidence that aid directed to human need is an excellent investment, donors should build on public commitment to humanitarian action and redouble their efforts -- not to cut aid to some of the world's neediest people."
"The Reality of Aid 95: An Independent Review of International Aid" (120pp; ISBN 1-85383- 292-8) was published jointly by the Europe-based groups Actionaid, ICVA and Eurostep. It is available from (1) Earthscan Publications Limited, 120 Pentonville Road, London N1 9JN, United Kingdom. Price: 12.95 pounds. (2) ICVA Secretariat, P.O. Box 216, 1211 Geneva 21, Switzerland. Tel: (41 22) 732 6600; Fax: (41 22) 7388804; Email: email@example.com. Price: 30 Sw Fr. (3) Island Press, P.O. Box 7, Covelo, CA 95428 U.S.A. Tel: (800) 828-1302; Fax: (707) 983-1302; Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Price: $20.95 + shipping & handling.
This article appeared in the June 26, 1995 issue of Monday Developments, a bi-weekly newsletter published by InterAction: American Council for Voluntary Interational Action. InterAction is a coalition of over 150 US-based private and voluntary organizations (PVOs) working internationally in sustainable development, disaster relief, refugee assistance, public policy and education of Americans about the developing world. Monday Developments contains news, analysis, features and commentary on changing global events that affect humanitarian work. In addition to reports from around the globe, it provides updates on initiatives in Washington that affect people in the developing world and suggests ways readers can influence US government policies. The newsletter also lists important conferences and seminars on international issues, reviews new resources, and has a section on employment opportunities in the US and abroad. To receive a sample copy, send $4 (US currency only please) to Monday Developments, InterAction, 1717 Massachusetts Ave. NW #801, Dept. IN, Washington, DC 20036, USA. More information on InterAction is available from email@example.com.
From: "APIC" firstname.lastname@example.org
Date: Mon, 21 Aug 1995 21:28:52 +0000
Subject: Declining International Aid Reported