Think Globally, Act Locally: Foreign Aid in Peril

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April 6, 2011; Source: OECD | With a government shutdown imminent, likely to be averted only if Republicans and Democrats agree on billions of dollars of cuts to the FY2011 budget, the U.S. commitment to development aid is precarious. Although development aid is less than one percent of the federal budget, some Republican members of Congress have an eye on that financial pittance as a necessary element of budget balancing, while others simply want the programs excised because they think that development aid doesn’t work.

Do Americans inside and outside of the nonprofit world agree with the angry, vocal set of legislators who think development aid isn’t worth the effort or the money? Should domestic nonprofits in small towns and big cities be concerned about maintaining the U.S. commitment to development aid in the form of global poverty reduction, primary education for the world’s poor, disaster relief and refugee assistance, and life-saving health interventions? Are we thinking globally as we act locally?

A new report from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development contains mixed signals about the future of development aid from developed nations. In 2010, development aid from 23 developed nations reached its highest point ever, $129 billion, 6.5 percent more than 2009. At the top of the list was the U.S. at $30.2 billion, followed by the U.K., France, Germany, and Japan. The two largest recipients of U.S. development aid by far are Afghanistan and Iraq which each got more than $2.5 billion in 2009.

Total development aid of the 23 developed countries in the OECD study amounted to only 0.32 percent of their combined gross national income (GNI) compared to an agreed upon United Nations target of 0.7 percent of GNI. Development aid accounted for only 0.21 percent of GNI for the United States. Only Denmark, Luxemburg, the Netherlands, Norway, and Sweden surpassed the 0.7 percent target. The 15 members of the European Union are pledged to meet the 0.7 percent/GNI target, but that number isn’t getting discussed in the halls of Congress.

Oxfam America is among the many groups advocating for preventing further cuts to the U.S. development aid budget. Its latest advocacy material includes information about the 2005 commitment of the G8 nations to add an extra $50 billion of development aid by 2010, including $25 billion specifically targeted to Africa – of which only $11 billion has been delivered.—Rick Cohen