International Aid Today: A Swift Jab

Tuesday 10 June 2008, by Vanessa GORDON

The United Nations Millennium Goals were declared in 2000 to remind us that without intervention from the world’s wealthiest, increasingly large numbers of people would face destitution. Eight years later, we are past halfway to the deadline and a preliminary survey of the results reveals mixed findings, mostly negative. While advances have been made towards accomplishing some goals in some places, the poorest are being bypassed: aid rarely serves to facilitate marginalized populations in finding their own solutions to poverty.

Canada’s aid performance pretty much matches that of its Northern counterparts. According to statistics published by The Reality of Aid, as a proportion of its Gross National Income, Canada sits comfortably in the middle of international rankings, just above the United States and way below the Scandinavian countries. Another way of looking at it is that Canada’s contribution is somewhat less than half way to the 0.7% mark, what international consensus considers decent.

As far as how the money is spent, a recent report put out by Canada’s Coalition to End Global Poverty finds that after removing everything from “technical cooperation” to tied-aid and administrative costs which have little to do with in-country development, only 32% of Canadian aid in 2004 was made available to community organizations in poor countries to implement their own development strategies, down from 39% in 2000. Development aid administered in cooperation with Canadian civil society organizations has been dropping correspondingly: in the five years up to 2004-2005, the proportion of the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) aid resources managed by Canadian non-governmental organizations declined from just under 30% to less than 20%.

Where does the rest of the money go? It follows international aid flows. According to The Reality of Aid, a disproportionate amount of aid money is being channeled to the War Against Terrorism, securing Iraq and Afghanistan. Another chunk of aid goes to debt relief. Debt relief is important, however it comes with debt repayment calendars that work to drain capital from its recipients.

That said, there is still more money available in the South than ever before and correspondingly, the World Bank and International Monetary Fund are seeing a decrease in business. However here again, the increase in resources has not led to development, proper job creation or a reduction in poverty. Generally speaking, wealth remains concentrated or it is being stockpiled in central banks as Southern countries attempt to protect themselves from international market volatility.

Meanwhile, despite the notable lack of resources the world’s poorest are being singled out for their market potential. Accounting for more than half of the world’s population and known in business terms as ‘the bottom of the pyramid’, those who live on the equivalent of two dollars a day are 4 billion strong. The market segment has strength in numbers and- crucially- in many cases it is also politically impotent. This means that with their two dollars, sometimes the world’s marginalized end up paying multinationals for things that you and I take for granted. If we were to examine basic services on the one hand and income brackets on the other, we would discover some pretty disturbing cost burdens being born by the poorest. Perhaps the worst off are those that have to pay for water from their own water tables through prepaid card machines attached to their water pipes. Immigrant migrant worker sections of the United States feature them, South Africa’s townships have them, parts of the Philippines, Brazil, Namibia. Swaziland, Tanzania, Nigeria and Curacao are all “beneficiaries.”

Overall, wealth outflows from many of the world’s poorest countries still greatly exceed inflows. The international aid scene is getting evermore complicated and fragmented, and the line between what is known in the industry as “aid effectiveness” and asymmetrical trade, the exploitation of cheap labor, inappropriate deregulation, concentrated land holdings and monopolistic business practices is even more blurred than usual. Worse still- like the 0.7% promise of a generation before- the Millennium Development Goals are set to become yet another promise to the world’s poor that was not kept.

À propos de Vanessa GORDON

International Internships Program

Vanessa has been part of Alternatives’ team for the past three years as a project officer for its Youth Programs. Previously, Vanessa took part in establishing the International Centre for the Prevention of Crime’s first international training institute. She has also worked with the UN High Commission for Human Rights at the Economic Commission in Santiago, Chile, as well as at the Pearson Peacekeeping Centre and the Canadian Human Rights Foundation (now known as Equitas). Vanessa has a Bachelor’s degree in Politics, honours International Relations and a Master’s degree in Comparative Ethnic Conflict.

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