Brussels has called on member states to honour their aid commitments as their contributions to the world’s poorest countries fell by €2.3 billion in 2012, according to an Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) report published yesterday (3 April).
This was the second consecutive yearly drop in overseas aid, sparking fears that the EU may fail to meet its 2015 United Nations commitment of allocating 0.7% gross national income (GNI) to aid.
Last year, EU members of the Development Assistance Committee (DAC), a group of 25 wealthy OECD countries, donated €50.5 billion in official development assistance (ODA) compared to €52.8bn in 2011. The European Union as a whole gave €55.1bn in 2012, a fall of €1.1bn on the previous year, according to OECD figures.
EU countries donated 0.39% of GNI to overseas aid, down from 0.42% in 2012. The EU as a collective donated 0.43%, down from 0.45% the year before.
Andris Piebalgs, the European commissioner for development, said in a statement: “It is with regret that I see some member states carrying out reductions of their ODA budgets. The EU is still the leading donor, but we are not moving in the direction of reaching our collective target of providing 0.7% of the EU Gross National Income (GNI) for development purposes.”
All but two EU countries – Austria (+6.1%) and Luxembourg (+9.8%) – made cuts to their aid budget. Austerity-hit Spain (-49.7%), Italy (-34.7%), Greece (-17%), Portugal (-13.1%) reduced their development aid by more than any other DAC members.
Larger European aid donors Germany (-0.7%), France (-1.0%), and the United Kingdom -2.2%) also made small overall reductions to overseas aid.
The OECD and the European Commission blamed the financial crisis and eurozone turmoil for the reduction, as many countries struggled to balance their national budgets.
“I realise some EU countries are in a dramatic situation due to the ongoing crisis but we need to deliver on our commitments”, Piebalgs said.
Only Austria (+6.1%) and Luxembourg (+9.8%) increased their aid contributions, due to debt relief operations with sub-Saharan Africa and an increase in bilateral grants, respectively.
The EU executive said only Denmark, Luxembourg, Sweden, and the Netherlands had already met the 0.7% GNI target.
The OECD underlined that the UK reduction reflected budget allocations put in place to ensure that the government contributed 0.56% of GNI in 2012 and 0.7% of GNI from 2013 towards ODA, in keeping with the UN aid targets.
DAC countries outside of the EU fared better, with Korea (+17.6%), Australia (+9.1%), and Canada (+4.1%) increasing their aid sizably, due to a scaling up of their aid programmes and an increase in bilaterals grants, in Canada's case.
In total the 25 DAC members donated €97.8 billion in net ODA, a 4% reduction compared to 2011, when it dropped by 2%. This amounted to 0.29% of their combined gross national income.
The EU remained the world’s largest aid donor, providing more than half of the OECD's ODA.
European ministers have agreed to pledge €58.7 billion for external aid from the EU budget over the 2014-2020 period, compared to the €70 billion initially proposed by the Commission.
The EU executive sees aid as a long-term investment. “As the current situation in the Sahel region or in the Horn of Africa reminds us, it is more efficient to invest in development and eliminate the root causes of poverty than deal with its symptoms further down the line”, Piebalgs said.
A Eurobarometer survey from October last year, said that 85% of polled EU citizens believed that Europe should continue donating aid to developing countries.
Spanish Minister of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation José Manuel García-Margallo has lamented the reduction of Official Development Assistance (ODA) in 2012 to 0.15 percent of the country’s GNI, and has said he expects that it would be compensated when Spain leaves the crisis.
“The cuts to funding for cooperation and humanitarian aid have occurred in all countries of the world, we are all being hit by the crisis and we have all had to make budget adjustments,” the Minister said.
According to the Foreign Minister, the government has tried to be "very careful "with resource management and pointed out allocations to NGOs have not been reduced. In this sense, he explained the Spanish contribution focuses in fewer countries and sectors affecting "more directly to the needs people "as in health projects, food security and nutrition, besides exploring cooperative arrangements with the local EU representations.
Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy too commented the need to maintain development aid over time:
“It is necessary to understand development assistance as a State policy. […] We Spaniards want to be players in the fight against hunger and we have contributed to this cause for years,” he said.
OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurría said: “It is worrying that budgetary duress [on] our member countries has led to a second successive fall in total aid, but I take heart from the fact that, in spite of the crisis, nine countries still managed to increase their aid… I hope that the trend in aid away from the poorest countries will be reversed.”
Catherine Olier, Oxfam’s EU development expert, said: “Aid is not charity, it’s a tiny but crucial investment to build a better, safer world. These cuts mean too many farmers won’t get the help they need to grow more food and too many children won’t get the education for better jobs. This wholesale disinvestment means that poor countries will suffer more from the mess made by rich country bankers, and have less to contribute to helping drive the world economy forward. “The fact that the UK has kept up its aid shows that other donor countries could stick to their pledges if they cared. It’s not an issue of money but of political will. Aid builds hospitals, pays doctors’ salaries and buys textbooks and medical equipment. Countries such as Germany -the economic powerhouse of Europe- and France, which are traditionally big donors must consider the human cost of not boosting their aid and do the right thing.”
Eloise Todd, Brussels director of ONE, said: “This is the wrong time to cut aid. So much progress has been made towards the MDGs, but there is still a lot to do. With the right leadership in developing countries, we know that aid spent well works. The results speak for themselves: thirteen countries in sub-Saharan Africa are on track to cut child mortality rates by two-thirds. Europe needs to up its game or risk reversing the huge progress on extreme poverty that has been made since 2000.”
“European leaders are in a scramble to cut what they can, despite the very real damage this could do to the lives and livelihoods of the world’s poorest people. Aid has the support of the public in Europe but support to poor countries is being hit hard by cuts that balance the books on the back of the world’s poor”, says Zuzana Sladkova, AidWatch coordinator of Concord.
“Spanish development cooperation is being hit hard, sinking to its lowest levels in 22 years. This has resulted in Spanish NGOs pulling out of developing countries. 68% of NGOs have had to close some of their aid projects on the ground. This is axing life saving support to some of the poorest people in need’” says Mercedes Ruiz-Jimenez, president of Spanish NGO platform Coordinadora.
The UK recently announced it would be the first G8 nation to reach international aid targets. Amy Dodd, of the UK Aid Network (UKAN), said: "UK aid is making and will continue to make a huge difference to millions of people around the world- saving lives and creating opportunities for people to pull themselves out of poverty. Reaching the 0.7% target, and sticking to it until these global challenges have been met, is the right thing to do and the smart thing to do. Living up to a promise we made to the world's poorest and most vulnerable people is something we can all be proud of."
In 2005, EU member states pledged to increase Official Development Assistance (ODA) to 0.7% of Gross National Income (GNI) by 2015 and included an interim target of 0.56% ODA/GNI by 2010.
These were based on individual targets of 0.7% ODA/GNI for the EU 15 and 0.33% GNI for the 12 Member States which joined the EU in 2004 and 2007, according to the European Commission.
EU countries that were already at or above 0.7% ODA/ GNI pledged to sustain their efforts. The EU Heads of State and Government reaffirmed their commitment to reach the 0.7% target by 2015 at the European Council on 7/8 February 2013.
A Eurobarometer survey from October 2012, said that 85% of polled EU citizens believed that Europe should continue donating aid to developing countries.
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