The international agency was responding to annual figures from the OECD that showed aid from rich countries was $133.5 billion in 2011 – a fall of $3.4 billion in real terms. Aid as a share of national income fell from 0.32 per cent to 0.31 per cent, leaving the world’s richest countries even further off-track to meet their promise to give 0.7 per cent of their national income to the poorest.
The biggest cuts were made by Greece and Spain, with Austria and Belgium also slashing aid budgets. And the picture is even bleaker than shown by these figures with Spain, Canada having already announced further aid cuts and the Netherlands, which currently exceeds the 0.7 per cent target, debating further cuts.
Analysis by Oxfam shows that at current rates of progress, donors as a group will not hit the 0.7 target for 50 years.
By contrast, Norway, Denmark and Luxemburg continue to meet their pledge to give more than 0.7 per cent of national income in aid; the UK remains committed to meeting the target by 2013; and Germany, Australia and Sweden have increased their aid budgets.
“When other countries fail to keep their promises to the world’s poor, Canada ought to pick up the slack,” said Robert Fox, Executive Director of Oxfam Canada. “Like several other key allies, including the UK, we can afford to spend more on aid.”
Oxfam said the ability of some countries to meet their commitments and increase aid showed that cutting aid was usually a political choice rather than an economic necessity. It called on rich countries to act urgently to reverse cuts and deliver on their promises to the world’s poorest.
Jeremy Hobbs, Executive Director of Oxfam International, 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.
"Cutting aid is no way to balance the books. Even small cuts in aid cost lives as people are denied life-saving medicines and clean water. Aid is such a tiny part of budgets that cutting it has no discernible impact on deficits – it is like cutting your hair to lose weight.
“Countries such as Spain, the Netherlands and Canada which are making severe cuts in their aid must consider the human cost and immediately reverse their decisions.
“We also need rich countries like Italy, Japan and the US, who currently give only a tiny proportion of their incomes, to do more to help the poorest.”
Oxfam calculates that the missing $3.4bn would be enough to provide a full year treatment for half of the children infected with HIV.
Aid also places a vital role in providing the educated, healthy workforce, infrastructure and support for entrepreneurs that is vital to economic development.
At $133.5 billion, total global aid spending is dwarfed by rich countries’ $1 trillion annual military spending and is less than a third of the $400 billion that is spent worldwide every year on cosmetics.
Failure of governments to meet their commitments to the world's poorest comes in stark contrast to the $18 trillion found to bail out the world's financial sector in the wake of the 2008 crisis.
The World Bank has said that tens of millions of people have been pushed into extreme poverty by the economic crisis.
Oxfam is calling for a financial transaction tax (FTT) to help poor people hit by the economic crisis.
Hobbs said: “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.
“Rich countries should meet their aid commitments and also make the financial sector pay to repair the damage done in poor countries. An FTT offers a real opportunity to raise additional revenue which is needed more than ever.”
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