ICDA Secretariat, Brussels
20 March, 2002
In 1969, the OECD's Development Assistance Committee (DAC) called for a "needs-based target" of 0.7% of donor countries' GNP for overseas development assistance. The United Nations, in 1997, made an affirmation of this commitment at its UN General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS). More recently, in 2000, world leaders meeting in New York pledged to reduce poverty by half by the year 2015. In 2002, leaders and so-called stakeholders are in Monterrey, Mexico, to re-affirm their commitment to the commitment they made just over thirty years ago.
If the OECD's DAC statistics of 2000 are anything to go by, the reality of aid is elusive. Out of the 22 OECD - dubbed as the club of the richest - countries, (that also happen to provide $1 billion a day for their farmers) only five have either attained, or passed 0.7%. Denmark was the highest in 2000 with 1.06%, and Luxembourg, the lowest of the top 5, achieved the target perfectly with 0.7%.
So far, the route to development has led to Mexico in the form of the UN's Financing for Development conference in Monterrey; and the fifth WTO Ministerial Conference scheduled for 2003 in Mexico City. The key mobiliser for the purported engine of growth -- trade -- could well appear to come in the form of Overseas Development Assistance (ODA).
However, the odyssey, so far, has proved difficult. It's been a thirty-year journey of endless promises and conferences all pledging to fight poverty, when in reality, geopolitics and parochial self-interest have prevailed. It is not without reason, for example, that there were fewer Least-developed countries (LDCs), shortly after decolonisation swept the Third World in the late sixties, than today where the number has grown to an apocalyptic 48 countries. Senegal would knock on the LDC door in May 2001 shortly after the UN's Third Conference on LDCs in Brussels: it was gladly welcomed in.
Moreover, this odyssey has been replete with as many dangers as those first encountered by Ulysses in that there has been more romancing to rhetoric, and more sweet words than those deadly sirens sang to the Greek hero's crew.
Jeffrey Sachs, writing for Taipei Times Website, writes of how "the scourge of poverty" is killing people. He insists that he is not talking about the general poverty that exists in each and every country worldwide, but "the gut-wrenching, life-threatening poverty of living on less than one dollar a day." On aid, he argues how if "especially the US and other rich countries" were to "shift a small amount of their military spending to meeting the needs of the world's poorest people, our generation could free humanity from poverty's iron grip."
If that sounds overly quixotic, it bears reminding that Sachs, like a growing number of civil society activists, are increasingly uncovering an inconsistent international policy by some Western countries which prioritise boosting military expenditure to astronomical levels rather than using a fraction of their income to alleviating global poverty. Sachs makes reference to this problem more than once in his article, but is more incisive when he writes of how the income of rich countries runs to the tune of $US25 trillion, but how "roughly $US 500 billion is spent each year on their militaries."
Sweet little mystery Down Under
Depending on whether you see a glass half-full or half-empty, you could argue that according to OECD's statistics, New Zealand is the best 15th country, or the worst 8th country to pay its ODA, with a very modest figure of 0.26%. According to Communications co-ordinator for Oxfam New Zealand Federico Monsalve, there remains an odour of complacency in New Zealand over the country's desire to raise the development assistance that has decreased since 2000 by almost 10 percent. Monsalve questions in his article in the New Zealand Herald "what, if anything remotely strong, is the New Zealand government taking to the Monterrey conference?"
Prospects look bleak, considering that New Zealand spends 1.1 percent of its GDP n defence.
Monsalve also questions what excuse there is for development aid to remain at 0.25 percent, and the only answer he comes up with is in the form of a rhetorical question: "can countries trade their way out of poverty?" The United States thinks so, and appears does not care one jot that fundamental factors such as literacy and gender equality remain the cornerstones of sound development policies.
In any event, those for whom trade really benefits, argues Monsalve, are those "able to study abroad and the wealthy - who may or may not pass their earnings to internal development, to enhancing human resources or to providing an infrastructure allowing people to lead more productive lives."
Then again, perhaps the reason why there is such disaffection towards ODA has very much to do with the fact that people find mysterious the notion underpinning development assistance. As he writes, "the idea of allocating a portion of a country's gross national product to help nations in need seems a forced token of charity and goodwill toward men; very much like being forced to share your toys with children who do not have many."
There is no denying that there is clearly a stink about the whole issue of ODA. Not to mention the odour of complacency that remains rife in the rest of the OECD countries - seventeen of them - which have not even reached 0.5%. In fact, the fifth best country to give ODA in 2000 was Belgium - with a bit more than half the required amount - 0.35%
What a sweet little mystery.
References: Time to put an end to the scourge of poverty around the world, Jeffrey Sachs, Taipeitimes.Com Website, March 6, 2002; Giving heartily to poor nations more than charity, Federico Monsalve, New Zealand Herald Website, March 20, 2002; Reality of Aid 1997-1998, Earthscan Publications, 1997.