The global financial crisis, combined with political pressure to reduce the impact of austerity measures on the voting public, is squeezing ODA spending in countries like Canada. In Europe the debate as to whether a target - 0.7% of GNI to aid budgets – enshrined by the UN General Assembly in 1970 still matters. However despite being affected by the same global economic pressures that other western nations are facing, countries like Sweden, Norway, the Netherlands, Denmark and Luxembourg are continuing to meet the 0.7% commitment. Others, such as the UK, are on track to do so by 2015.
These governments know that while they may be facing more austere times, the austerity is relative. They know that still one in seven people in the world continue to live needlessly on the edge of starvation; that every minute, a woman with no access to medical care will die in pregnancy or childbirth; and that every day 4,000 children die of diarrhea caused by dirty water. And they know ODA can help lift these people out of poverty and improve their quality of life.
But the commitment of European country leaders to maintain and increase their ODA budget in these tough financial times is not just altruistic. They encompass a variety of political persuasions and yet all have seen the bigger picture – that in a globalized and interconnected world, the fate of the global North is intertwined with that in the global South. Over the longer term, healthy and prosperous communities represent new markets for exports, for example, and that more productive agriculture will not just improve nutrition, but can also reduce pressure on scarce natural resources. This 0.7 club of countries knows that it makes sense to make ODA an integral part of both foreign and economic policy.
Moreover, 0.7 countries are not acting as if the world is the same as it was in 1970, when the 0.7% of GNI target was established. Far from it; they are acknowledging the world is rapidly changing around us. Recent reforms to ODA spending in these countries have included increasing the focus on results, focusing bilateral aid on fewer countries with the lowest income, and increasingly working in partnership with the private sector. Aid is smarter today than it was 40 years ago and the impact is clear. Nearly 4 million Africans have been placed on life preserving antiretroviral treatment for AIDS since 2002. Between 2000 and 2009, 5.4 million child deaths were averted thanks to immunisation supported by the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation. We are 99% of the way there on the long journey of polio eradication, to name just a few achievements in global health.
We need to keep advocating for countries to meet, and keep, their commitment to the 0.7% ODA target by continuing to ensure the impact of aid is understood. The economic crisis has the potential to add fuel to the fire of many critics of ODA and may delay progress towards this target in some cases. However, the example of the UK shows that countries can increase their ODA spending to achieve the 0.7% target even in tough economic times. How can we ensure others take note?