• Last year, OECD members only gave 0.3% of their GNI to aid – less than the 0.7% promised.
• 0.7% would help the world’s poorest countries meet the SDGs for a decade.
• Stable aid flows are needed more than ever during and after the COVID-19 pandemic.
On 24 October 1970, the world’s richest countries made a promise that would better the lives of people around the world. They committed to give a small percentage of their income – just 0.7% – in international aid to help low- and middle-income countries tackle the scourge of extreme poverty. They pledged, through a landmark UN resolution, to reach this target in just five years.
In the 50 years since then, international aid has become a lifeline for millions of people around the world. It is the only rich-country policy dedicated to supporting people living in poverty beyond their borders. It is one crucial form of global redistribution from the rich world to the poor. This is not largesse. It is not charity. It is a duty and an obligation and goes, if only in a small way, towards making up for the colonial exploitation of the developing world by wealthy nations.
We should be marking a “golden jubilee” of success, optimism and celebration of our shared humanity since that commitment. We are not.
Too many rich nations continue to fail to meet the target they set. Last year, members of the OECD club of rich nations contributed on average just 0.3% of their gross national income (GNI) to aid. In 2019, over a third of that amount ($55 billion) was in fact paid back to wealthy nations in debt repayments by countries in sub-Saharan Africa alone – a harsh reminder of a global economic system rigged in favour of the richest nations and richest people.
More alarming is the shocking missed opportunity: New Oxfam analysis shows that donor countries would have paid an extra $5.7 trillion to help low- and middle-income countries fight poverty and inequality had they reached 0.7% from the start.
To put it in perspective, that is enough money to help the world’s poorest 59 countries meet the Sustainable Development Goals for the next decade. That’s every girl and boy having a school to go to free of charge, and universal healthcare systems with millions of doctors and nurses on the front line. And more.
$5.7 trillion is, in truth, a scandalous debt owed to the poorest people. And yet some countries have proven that the 0.7% target is realistic, sensible policy. Five countries − Luxembourg, Norway, Sweden, Denmark and the United Kingdom – are all meeting or exceeding their target. In doing so, they have responded to the calls of millions of citizens around the world. I recall vividly in 1994 protesting with others outside Spain’s ministry of finance for weeks to fight for 0.7%, as many brilliant civic leaders went on long hunger strikes.
The messages were heard in many rich capitals. Aid has continued to prove to be a winning strategy. Fifty years on, aid has helped to eradicate polio in Africa and save 38 million lives through the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. Millions of children have gone to school, especially girls. Aid has helped countries around the world to strengthen their governance – from raising taxes more progressively to ensuring citizens hold them to account. It is helping poor countries to adapt to climate change.
Today, aid is needed more than ever, not least in the wake of a pandemic that is wreaking havoc on the poorest and an inequality crisis that is driving our world apart. The pandemic risks pushing as many as 200 to 500 million people into poverty. Aid can mean the difference between life and death for millions of people in the years to come.
We certainly need more aid, but we also need to do it better: aid that writes itself out of a job – not the colonial kind that fuels dependency. We need a kind of aid that respects the leadership of local communities, not the whims of rich men in rich capitals. And we need aid to be truly effective, long-term and predictable – instead of the wasteful public-private partnerships, for example on health and education, that do an injustice to people in poor countries, as well as to taxpayers in rich countries in squandering their contributions.
It is high-time for a 0.7% in solidarity with communities around the world. Rich countries can afford it – it’s a drop in the ocean compared to the trillions they have invested to protect their own economies. They can, moreover, boost aid budgets through innovative financing mechanisms, such as financial-transaction taxes and other solidarity taxes.
Fifty years is too long to fulfil a promise. We need a renewed commitment to aid that makes amends for historic injustices and helps us exit this painful crisis, in solidarity with others towards a fairer world.