Aid in a crisis

Rich Western nations are urged to stick with the UN Millennium development goals inspite of the turb

In the midst of the global financial meltdown, world leaders met last week to review the progress of the UN Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

These are intended to reduce extreme global poverty and, improve health and education. A report released prior to the meeting found that development aid needed to increase by $18 billion each year between 2008 and 2010 to meet the Official Development Assistance (ODA) pledge by developed countries towards fulfilling the goals.

Interestingly at the end of the event, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon announced that an additional $16 billion had been pledged by governments and non governmental bodies in aid in the attempt to meet the targets of the MDGs by its deadline of 2015. Mr Ban Ki-moon called it 'remarkable' that the pledge came in the background of the global financial crisis. In fact, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown in his address to the UN, went on to say that the financial crisis should not be an excuse to cut aid.

So if countries are willing to donate despite the current meltdown and pledges of commitment are being made at regular intervals, what explains the large gap of $31.4 billion of ODA (according to the Report of the MDG Gap Task Force) when we're more than halfway to the deadline?

We put these questions to Minar Pimple, Deputy Director of the UN Millennium Campaign, Asia, and Tajudeen Abdul-Raheem, Deputy Director of the UN Millennium Campaign, Africa.

When asked if the current global financial meltdown might affect aid towards the MDGs, Pimple said there is no direct correlation between aid and the financial crisis. He said US$16 billion paled in comparison towards the proposed US financial bail out plan of $700 billion to help Wall Street.

He stressed that the global financial crisis needs to be discussed independent of aid towards MDG commitments. It was the responsibility of each individual country to deliver on the goals regardless of political difficulties.

At the recent UN event on MDGs, General Assembly President Miguel D’Escoto pointed out that “the amount spent so far on the Iraq war could have paid for a full course of primary schooling for all of the world’s children and youth who are not in school. The price of a single missile is enough to build about 100 schools in any country in Africa, Asia or Latin America.”

Abdul-Raheem made the point that even without the financial crisis, commitments to the MDGs had not been met.

When asked why commitments towards aid remained unfulfilled, Pimple said that till the ODA (commitment to donate 0.7% of GNI) became a political issue, gaps would remain. Governments, he said, can give unsubstantiated reasons to fall short on their commitments, but it is really up to the political establishment to act. Giving the example of Australia, he said the change of leadership has already meant substantial improvements towards climate change and aid efforts. In this respect, civil society also has an important role to play in pressurising governments to uphold their commitments and he mentioned UK and Spain, where citizens pushed their respective governments to act.

Abdul-Raheem questioned why rich, larger countries of Europe could not meet their commitment towards MDGs if smaller Scandinavian countries, especially Norway was able to keep its promises. He also said that it was the duty of citizens to hold governments accountable on the MDGs as the goals are a commitment by governments to the people of the world.

Citizens of Africa and Asia meanwhile had to ensure their leaders met targes such as reduction of poverty, improvement of education and health, while citizens of the developed world had to ensure their governments stuck to their commitments - including delivering the right quantity and quality of aid.

Just as much as aid dependence needs to be tackled, both Pimple and Abdul-Raheem agreed that establishing fair trade was integral to aid. Aid, after all cannot be independent of justice.