Financing Africa’s future: The fight against poverty

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

Drought-stricken Africans. [Stuart Price/United Nations]

European Union member states fell short of their collective aid commitments by a shocking €39.5 billion last year, writes Tamira Gunzburg.

Tamira Gunzburg, Brussels Director of The ONE Campaign. ONE is an NGO co-founded by rock star Bono which seeks to end extreme poverty and preventable disease, particularly in Africa.

“The Ebola outbreak devastating parts of West Africa is a stark reminder of the hardship faced by millions of people living in extreme poverty. Thousands of lives have already been lost to the disease, and hundreds of thousands more are at risk of hunger or preventable diseases. People aren’t going to work, schools and businesses are closed, the health systems are shattered and food prices are skyrocketing.

The urgency of the need for a properly coordinated response cannot be overstated. But once the immediate crisis is brought under control, we must begin the difficult job of addressing the longterm effects, most importantly strengthening and rebuilding West Africa’s health care systems.

There could not be a clearer example of the importance of governments stepping up to meet their promises on international development. And yet new research by The ONE Campaign shows that, with a few notable exceptions, the majority of donor countries are failing to stick to their pledges. The European Union member states fell short of their collective aid commitments by a shocking €39.5 billion last year.

There is good news. The proportion of people living on less than $1.25 a day has halved in the last 20 years. The EU has played an important part in improving people’s lives. For example, between 2004 and 2012, EU aid secured food for 46.5 million people, connected 70 million people to clean drinking water and immunised 18 million infants against measles.

But just four of the 28 member states are doing their part of the joint EU commitment to dedicate 0.7 % of collective gross national income to development. Countries like Portugal and the Netherlands have even been cutting aid drastically. Whereas some, such as Italy and Croatia, are gaining ground, almost all member states are failing to meet their pledges to spend aid money in countries where it is most needed. The least developed countries are inevitably those who are most dependent on aid, but their share of the total pot has been shrinking.

In Liberia, for example, a fragile country that has been rebuilding its institutions after a devastating civil war, the government revenue in 2012 was just $132 per person. With their health service shattered by the Ebola crisis, it is only too plain that this is nowhere near enough. Sustained and strong support from donors is crucial, in Liberia and the rest of the world’s least developed countries, not just to address humanitarian disasters but also to strengthen their national systems for the long term to help build resilience. It is with these real life stories in mind that the EU and its member states should redouble their efforts to fulfill their commitments and target aid effectively and where it is needed most.

Of course, African governments need to step up too. Too few are meeting their own pledges to commit their domestic resources on health, education and agriculture spending. They must prioritise investment in building the vital infrastructure that would equip them with the tools to address crises swiftly. Many African countries however suffer from a loss of potential revenue, due to illicit financial flows resulting from corruption and tax evasion. It is clear that in the poorest countries, this financial haemorrhage is costing lives. Here, too, the EU can help. By making its businesses more transparent so as to avoid complicity, it can help fight corruption and free up resources for investments in critical services such as healthcare.

2015 could be a turning point in global development efforts. A new blueprint for sustainable development is on the horizon, but the historic opportunity to virtually wipe out extreme poverty by 2030 could be lost unless governments – north and south – increase their efforts on and beyond aid, and sharpen their focus on helping the very poorest people.

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