February 18, 2016
By Hilary Jeune, EU Policy Advisor on Development Finance at the Oxfam EU Office
Just six months after world leaders pledged to eradicate extreme poverty by 2030, rich countries are risking to jeopardize this landmark promise. When our governments are gathering today for crucial meetings in Paris and Brussels, the effectiveness of development aid is at risk. Instead of looking at how best to protect the most vulnerable people, our leaders are focusing on quick budget fixes.
European leaders meeting for a summit in Brussels today will discuss their response to the refugee crisis. So far, instead of focusing on root causes of displacement, EU states have been favoring their own security agenda over, searching for remedies to stop migrants before they arrive in Europe.
Development ministers are gathering at the same time in Paris to discuss the issue on a far more technical level: they are coming together for a meeting of the Development Assistance Committee, a forum within the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development that regulates the international aid landscape. Ministers will discuss a highly complicated and detailed set of rules, but the decisions they take are far-reaching: they will decide what government money is considered development aid and what not, hence determining how much aid will reach poor people in developing countries.
We need development aid – and it works
Aid can have a transformative impact on the lives of millions of people. Amazing progress has been achieved over the last 15 years, demonstrating that aid works. In 1990, close to 40% of the world’s population lived in extreme poverty; this rate has dropped by two thirds. During the same period, the proportion of undernourished people in developing regions has almost halved, and the primary school enrolment in developing regions has reached 91%.
However, extreme poverty and inequality still exist in this world. This is why development aid is – and will remain – crucial to providing essential public services like education and health care in many states, and especially in Least Developed Countries.
Rigging the books at the expense of developing countries
But current discussions in many European donor countries question whether governments are still committed to leaving no-one behind in the most vulnerable communities across the globe.
The proposal on the table to be decided is for further adaptions to the aid rules that would allow to further use aid money to pay for security and defense costs.
That kind of questionable alliance between aid money and non-aid goals might be convenient for governments, but it completely undermines effective development cooperation. Rather than empowering the poorest people in the world, changes to aid spending rules covering defense and security expenses would only serve to patch holes in national budgets and serve our own European foreign policy agenda. Safeguards are supposedly being put in place, but there is no guarantee that these will be enforced and properly monitored on the ground.
Since every euro can only be spent once, such a shortsighted relaxation of aid spending rules would effectively fix donor states’ budgets to the detriment of the most marginalized people in developing countries.
Inflated aid instead of real support for the poorest
But it is not only about diversion of aid towards security and defense; an always larger portion of aid money is actually spent in the donor states themselves. A great number of rich European states have been declaring their expenses for hosting refugees as aid spending for a while. In 2014, ahead of the refugee crisis’ latest spike, close to $4.4 billion have been labelled as development aid, but actually never left the EU states. These figures are set to increase sharply for 2015 and 2016.
It must be an absolute priority to cater for the needs of those who arrive in our countries and depend on our help: it’s not about charity, it’s about human rights, dignity and international law. But labelling money as aid even though it does not leave a donor country is misleading: aid that never reaches the poorest people is inflated aid.
Not a time for penny-pinching
Development aid needs to do what it says on the tin: support the world’s poorest people in lifting themselves out of poverty, not to fill budget holes and rig the books.
The meetings of the Development Assistance Committee in Paris as well as the European summit should put in place accountability mechanisms that ensure development funding fully contributes to helping the most marginalized. When aid is allowed to do its job, it can successfully tackle the issues threatening the well-being, peace, security and prosperity of people in the developing world.
Together with a coalition of other NGOs, Oxfam has launched a petition to ask European leaders to meet the needs of refugees arriving at our borders without doing so at the expense of the world’s poorest. The organizations are calling on governments to make sure aid is focused on fighting extreme poverty and prioritizes the countries and people that have the least.
Sign the petition now!