Archive Article: Foreign Aid. 17 July 98.
December 23, 2008
Is foreign aid from governments on the way out? Some Australian politicians have criticized the foreign aid that the Australian Government gives. There is a global trend whereby all foreign aid may have stopped by the year 2015.
The United Nations Children Fund – UNICEF – publishes each year a report entitled The Progress of Nations, whereby the nations of the world are ranked according to their achievements in the fulfilment of child rights and the progress for women. The Australian Minister for Health, Dr Michael Woolridge, launched the report in Sydney last week.
One of the articles in the report is a review of the declining level of foreign aid. For the fifth straight year, aid for development provided by industrialized countries has declined. In 1996 the total was US$56 billion, which was a decrease of four per cent in real terms from 1995 and down 16 per cent from the highest level in 1992.
At the present rate of decline government foreign aid will, in theory, cease to exist by the year 2015. Incidentally, this is official government aid. The non-government aid, from such organizations as World Vision, Community Aid Abroad and World Christian Action, is not covered by this report. I assume that that aid is still increasing. In other words, people are more charitable than their governments.
In 1970, western governments agreed to provide 0.7 per cent of their gross national product to foreign aid. The Whitlam and Fraser Governments came closest to meeting that target. Australia is now giving the lowest amount of foreign aid since records began. As Australia has become richer, so it has become meaner.
Only four countries are consistently meeting the target: Denmark, the Netherlands, Norway and Sweden. The meanest countries are Spain, Italy, Japan and the United States.
If all the donors had met the aid target, the annual level of official would be $100 billion. That amount, over 10 years, would be more than sufficient to ensure that everyone in developing countries had access to basic social services – including basic education, health care, family planning, adequate nutrition and safe water and sanitation.
What lessons are to be learned from the four countries that have met their international commitment: Denmark, the Netherlands, Norway and Sweden? Except for the fact that they are all in the northern part of western Europe, they are somewhat different in their domestic political attitudes and in their foreign policy.
The key factor it seems to me is that all four have spent large amounts of foreign aid within their own country on development education. In other words, their citizens are a lot better informed about foreign aid than we are in Australia. Before you spend money in foreign aid overseas, spend some of it in explaining to your own citizens why foreign aid is important.
Given the state of the Australian debate over foreign aid, it is urgent that more money be spent in development education in this country.
BROADCAST ON FRIDAY JULY 17 1998 ON RADIO 2GB’S “BRIAN WILSHIRE PROGRAMME” AT 9 PM, AND ON JULY 19 1998 ON “SUNDAY NIGHT LIVE” AT 10.30 PM.