Global aid fall sparks cash call


Europe's richest countries today faced pressure to step up cash support for developing nations after figures showed the first fall in global aid for 14 years.

A study by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development confirmed America as by far the largest donor state, followed by Germany, the UK, France and Japan.

But of all donor countries worldwide, only Denmark, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway and Sweden currently beat the United Nations' Overseas Development Aid (ODA) target of giving at least 0.7% of national wealth to the neediest in the world.

Today's OECD report said the UK, whose aid commitment fell slightly last year, nevertheless remained on track to achieve the ODA goal of 0.7% by 2013 - two years ahead of target.

The report said major donors' support fell by nearly 3% on average last year, breaking a long trend of annual rises for the first time since 1997.

Greece and Spain cut their aid by 39% and 33% respectively because of the economic crisis, and other big slashers of national aid budgets were Austria, Belgium and Japan.

Continuing tight budget pressure will put pressure on aid levels for years to come, warned the OECD report, and OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurria urged donors nevertheless to keep up their aid pledges:

"The fall of ODA is a source of great concern, coming at a time when developing countries have been hit by the knock-on effect of the crisis and need it most"

He praised the donor states who kept their aid pledges despite tough domestic economic cuts, and warned: "They show that the crisis should not be used as an excuse to reduce development cooperation contributions."

EU Development Commissioner Andris Piebalgs joined the call, declaring: "In times of crisis, the EU must not forget the poorest in the world."

He said the 27 EU countries combined remained the world's largest aid donor in 2011 - to the tune of 53 billion euro (£44 billion), or more than half all official global aid.

At a time of heavy budget constraints at home, three EU donor nations - Germany, the UK and France - ranked among the five largest individual donors countries worldwide, while four had already reached the 0.7% target. Overall, the EU's donor aid currently amounted to just over 0.4% of EU combined wealth.

The Commissioner went on: "EU aid has pulled millions of people out of poverty and saved countless lives over the last ten years. Development aid is both solidarity and an investment to make the world safer and more prosperous.

"I therefore call on member states to reaffirm their commitment to achieving the goal of increasing ODA to 0.7% of GNI (national wealth) by 2015."

International aid agencies warned the aid cuts would cost lives in the developing world.

Justin Forsyth, chief executive of Save the Children, said: "It is tragic that global aid should be cut just when we are making dramatic progress in saving children's lives. Aid works, and even though many donors are experiencing their own financial difficulties, this should not be an excuse to abandon poor countries, especially when aid represents such a tiny proportion of their total spending."

He said the eurozone crisis was clearly directly hitting the poor in the developing world as well as hurting European:

"In this context, the UK should be congratulated for keeping its promise. We know that aid saves lives and at a time when other countries are making cuts, the UK's leadership is particularly vital."

Max Lawson, Oxfam's Head of Policy, said: "This cut in aid is a global scandal. Rich countries are using the economic crisis as an excuse to turn their backs on the world's poorest at a time when they need help the most."

He said it was more important than ever for the UK to stick to its aid promises.

"We are surprised and concerned the Government allowed aid to fall last year. We have given our word to the poorest people in the world, it is vital that we keep it.

Mr Lawson added: "Governments have shown that they can find large sums of money to bail out banks but with notable exceptions - Denmark, Norway and the UK - most are failing dismally to find much smaller sums for the world's poorest people."