Aid generosity lacking in high places

Written by YRK Reddy | Updated: Aug 20 2005, 06:03am hrs
We all know how tight-fisted and clever some of the developed countries have been in their contributions and management of Official Development Assistance (ODA). Does this imply that their people are mean Obviously, generosity cannot be dramatically different, say, between the educated peoples of Norway and the US. Levels of prosperity or potential economic risks among the donor countries cannot explain the differences away. This complexity worsens when we note that the priorities for aid flows are not what aid is meant to achieve. The profile of major recipients makes little sense, except to the political strategist who may know how to extract profit from generosity.

The OECD notes with satisfaction the highest-ever increase in ODA to developing countries in 2004, but the challenges of meeting the Millennium Development Goals remain sticky. Among the factors that contributed to this increase are the aid to Afghanistan and Iraq by at least $1.5 billion. The US remained the largest donor in volume terms, despite its poor show in meeting the UN target of 0.7% of Gross National Income (GNI) it was a mere 0.16%. Norway, Luxembourg, Denmark, Sweden and Netherlands are the only countries that have reached the target. Among the European Unions member-countries, Belgium has committed to meeting the target by 2010, France by 2012 and the United Kingdom by 2013. Sweden has a goal of exceeding the target, to 1% of GNI, by 2006.

As the statistics may not reveal the quality of the aid, an attempt was made by the Centre for Global Development last year to adjust for the qualitative aspects, such as the quality of recipient governance and poverty and penalising tied aid. On such adjustment, the aid falls to 0.5% of GDP for Sweden, 0.19 for the UK and to 0.05% for the US. Further, it is estimated that only 40% of the aid actually reaches the target groups. There has also been an official report in the US, assuring that 50% of the donations return directly or indirectly to the US. There is much bureaucracy, related party transactions and connected consultancies that make the actual delivery meagre, deceptive and often late.

Those which receive the highest amount as a proportion of their GNI are the Marshall Islands, East Timor, Tuvalu, the Gaza Strip, the West Bank, Sao Tome & Principe and Iraq, in that order. In terms of volumes, the top rankers for US aid are Egypt, Russia, Iraq, Congo, Israel, Pakistan, Jordan, Colombia, Afghanistan and Ethiopia in that order. Evidently, the flows are not in alignment with poverty, hunger, malnutrition, pandemic disease or illiteracy, but are tampered with other considerations.

People are willing to give much more in aid than their countries ODA
Citizens should demand better alignment of values with rulers on this
Are the people of the high-income, low-charity countries as narrow and extractive as the aid levels, patterns and management suggest Obviously not, as many note the generosity of the average American, European or Japanese and their greater sensitivity to global issues. Private contributions from US citizens and foundations exceed official donations twice over. A survey conducted in 2001 in the US revealed that respondents (comprising mostly of common people) believed an average of 24% of the federal budget was being spent on foreign aid. When asked for their views, after being told the actual foreign aid happens to be only 1% of the federal budget, many believed that it was too little. When asked if they would be willing to match other European countries, by giving $50 a year to halve world hunger by 2015, over 75% said Yes. And most believed that money should be spent on issues of hunger, disease, poverty, women and children in countries where that may not necessarily serve other interests of the US.

The results would have been even more startlingly different from the official approach if the respondents have been from the more educated sections that understand the connectedness of nations. It is obvious that people in power have widely different values and aspirations than their citizens. They probably have value-free personal benchmarks. They may revel in their ability to manage perceptions and appearances, combine strategic interests, and extract juice from charity. It is time people demand better alignment of values on this, between the governing lot and the governed.