GENEVA — When the U.N. met for a three-day summit in late May to discuss global initiatives regarding maternal and child health, U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon criticized the dearth of effort to fulfill promises regarding foreign aid worldwide. While the Prime Minister of Canada, Stephen Harper, committed to increasing aid toward maternal and child health, Ban made it clear that is not going to suffice.
Back in 1970, the U.N. developed the General Assembly Resolution, which established that 0.7 percent of a developed country’s gross national product (GNP) should go toward Official Development Assistance. Back when this goal was developed with the hope of eliminating extreme poverty, it would have been far more difficult to achieve than the U.N. believed. Today, however, the U.N. explains, “after two and a half decades of sustained economic growth, the Goals are utterly affordable,” hence Ban’s frustration.
Despite the efforts of many humanitarian organizations on the behalf of developed countries, only five countries are meeting, and actually exceeding, the 0.7 percent mark. Denmark, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway and Sweden all contribute over 0.7 percent of their GNP to Official Development Assistance, with Norway ranking the highest at 0.92 percent.
Based on analysis by the U.N. Millennium Project, if other developed countries increased their aid contribution to 0.7 percent of GNP, the world would be able to “start on a path to achieve the Millennium Development Goals and end extreme poverty within a generation.”
Much of Ban’s criticism revolved around Canada, which is focusing much of its monetary efforts on maternal and child health, something the Ban finds admirable but also inefficient. He believes that the aid could be more widely distributed to achieve more development goals.
Canada recently made $370 million in cuts to international spending, leaving their Official Development Assistance at an extreme low. Both Canada and the U.S. have failed to set timetables for reaching the 0.7 percent goal, keeping the Millennium Goals just out of reach for 2015.
So why are so many developed countries shirking their responsibility and reneging on their promises?
Much of it, at least in the U.S., comes down to the public’s misconceptions. According to a poll done by the Kaiser Family Foundation in November 2013, Americans are under the impression that 28 percent of the government budget goes toward foreign aid spending. Ezra Klein of The Washington Post explains that, were this percentage accurate, “foreign aid [would be]pricier than Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid or all defense spending.” This is certainly not the case.
Despite these misconceptions, in reality, approximately 1 percent of the federal budget is funneled toward foreign aid. Given the misinformation revolving around foreign aid, misinformation that is propelled by the media and political agendas, it is understandable that foreign aid would receive less than its due of public support. Once these misconceptions are laid to rest, public support may increase, and other developed countries will follow suit with increases in Official Development Assistance.
With such an achievable goal in sight, Ban conveys his disappointment in the lack of initiative regarding foreign aid at a time when things can be turned around. Foreign aid has a plethora of benefits all over the world, such as developing education and health systems, providing communities with resources for farming and informing families about how to get the nutrition they need. If the developed and capable countries around the world respond to Ban’s requests, impoverished countries could be seeing these benefits in little time.