After two years of declining world aid, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development released new figures on April 8 demonstrating that aid had reached a record high in 2013 and increased by over 6.1 percent. In the face of what appears to be a gratifying headline, beneath the surface lies a far more depressing state of affairs. Despite aid increasing globally, aid to Africa fell by over 5.6 percent last year. In the least-developed countries, aid has been falling sharply with accounting tricks by developed nations which misreport the facts of global aid donations. More must be done in unstable political, economic and social climates to ensure that aid reaches those most at risk.
While many people in developed nations may think the majority of foreign aid goes to Africa, they would be wrong. A study conducted by The Guardian found that over $20 million in aid from the United Kingdom was used to launch a media campaign throughout the United Kingdom to increase public support for global aid donations. The fact that this course of events took place is not blameworthy, yet the money should not have been labeled as aid. The rules governing what constitutes aid are very broad, allowing governments across developed nations to misrepresent their donations.
What appears to be a technically lenient definition is having a real-world effect, harming the world’s poorest. With 450 million people still living in absolute poverty, living on less than $1.25 a day, UN agencies and nongovernmental organizations are struggling to meet demand. Developed nations are not ensuring that they honor their funding pledges with domestic policies trumping humanitarian concerns. Syria, which is suffering from a devastating civil war as well as a severe drought and record-low harvest, has been bearing the brunt of this inaction. The World Food program, which is facing a severe budget deficit, has had to cut the size of its food parcels by one-fifth to ensure that they can meet the growing demand.
Next week in Mexico, the Global Partnership for Effective Development Cooperation, an organization of 161 nations with the limited focus to improve development cooperation, will meet for their first high-level meeting of 2014. With its limited area of policy focus, the GPEDC must be utilized by developed nations to honestly reassess their aid policies. The organization must also break down the red tape and slipshod policies that allow member states to renege on their aid promises. The United States, which is the largest aid donor in the world, must take the first step at addressing the duality of aid increasing globally and the poorest nations continuing to receive less.
A version of this article appeared in the Monday, April 14 print edition. Harry Brown is a staff columnist. Harry’s Take is published every Monday. Email him at [email protected]