Oxfam hits out at aid critics; tells G8 to quit dithering on poverty

In a major new report, international agency Oxfam is hitting out at critics who argue against all forms of aid, while challenging G8 leaders meeting in Canada in June to stop dithering at the margins of human poverty.

April 26, 2010

`Rich donors must rediscover how high-quality aid can help poor countries strengthen their people and economies a key to how the world might emerge from the global economic crisis in better shape, said Oxfam Canada policy coordinator Mark Fried.

`Good aid works, he said. `When G8 development ministers meet in Halifax today, they should press their leaders not to backtrack on aid promises.

The report, called 21st Century Aid, says that this year alone, rich countries owe the world's poor $151 billion the difference between their 40-year-old promise of reaching 0.7 per cent of gross national income on aid, and what they actually put on the table in 2009.

`For poor countries these missing billions are the currency of human suffering, said report author Jasmine Burnley. `The missing billions are the dollar expression of more poor people missing an education, losing the chance to take part in a productive economy or falling ill and dying needlessly.

Oxfam's report analyzes why well-targeted aid works. In Mozambique, for example, quality aid has led to a 50 per cent increase in health spending, helping to cut child deaths by 20 per cent in 10 years. In Eastern Europe, greater aid has gone to training civil servants, leading to greater government accountability.

Oxfam argues that bilateral aid should be improved and reformed, and must not be driven by geopolitical and trade interests, squandered on expensive consultants or delivered in inefficient ways.

The report challenges the argument that poor countries should refuse aid and instead open their markets wider to foreign investment, borrow more and improve taxation. These are crucial, Oxfam says, but alone are not enough to meet the basic development needs of many poor countries.

The report follows a flurry of media headlines about aid in the past two weeks:

  • the OECD revealed that more than half its country members cut their aid spending in 2009;
  • sub-Saharan Africa still lags behind poverty reduction targets, according to the World Bank;
  • the IMF outlined a tax on banks that Oxfam says needs to be linked to fighting poverty, and published data suggesting poor countries were having to slash crucial social service budgets to bail themselves out of the economic crisis

`Not all aid works and a lot could work better, but that's an argument for it to be improved, not abandoned, Fried said. `When given and spent properly, aid can save lives. Think of the 33 million more children in school in the past decade and the 10-fold increase in anti-retroviral treatments for HIV/AIDS since 2004.

2010 is an historic year for the G8, which is reviewing the aid commitments it made in Gleneagles five years previously. With new promises expected around maternal health, there is even greater need for governments to live up to their commitments.

`As a consequence of the economic crisis, poor countries now need an additional $32 billion to cover their financing needs. There could not be a worse moment for rich countries to turn their backs on the poor or a better time for them to honour their promises, Burnley said.

For more information or to arrange interviews, please contact:

Karen Palmer 613-240-3047karenp@oxfam.ca