Last week a House of Commons enquiry committee called on the government to abandon plans to legislate 0.7 per cent of Gross National Income (GNI) for official development assistance (ODA).
Despite praising the Government for its spending so far, concerns over corruption, value for money and staffing cuts at the UK Department for International Development (DFID) provided ammunition for the call to abandon the target. The report maintained that it would be better to focus on getting value out of what we give, rather than on increasing the amount to an arbitrary percentage of national income.
The report did not suggest an alternative method for arriving at an appropriate amount to give although it emphasised that it was not advocating for a freeze or reduction in aid.
Those of us who recognise the 0.7 per cent target from the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) would be forgiven for thinking that this is just another short lived commitment, made in the hazy days of a new century. However, the target of 0.7 per cent has long been considered the appropriate amount for wealthy countries to donate in ODA to those nations who have not had the same good economic fortune. In 1970, governments promised 0.7 per cent of GNP by 1975. By the time we reach 2015 the target will be 45 years old and 40 years late.
The 0.7 per cent target is important because it remains the estimated cost of ending extreme poverty within a generation, as captured by the MDGs . The introductory text to the MDG resolution, passed in 2000, reads :
“[We] have a collective responsibility to uphold the principles of human dignity, equality and equity at the global level. As leaders we have a duty therefore to all the world’s people, especially the most vulnerable and, in particular, the children of the world, to whom the future belongs”.
The MDG commitment made in 2000 and again in 2010 still stands because extreme poverty still exists. The need for financial assistance to meet these goals therefore also still exists.
In some parts of the world, pregnant women do not expect to survive labour. Millions expect go to bed hungry – currently, an estimated 16 million are expected to be affected by the drought in West Africa. Child mortality in this fragile region is expected to rise. Legislation makes the commitment to end such expectation seem more real and more achievable. Legislating for the 0.7 per cent ODA not only indicates long term commitment to the world’s poorest people, but also to the institutions which foster such agreements, ensuring they still have meaning.
The committee report concluded that :
“...development aid should be judged by the criteria of effectiveness and value for money, not by whether a specific arbitrary spending target is reached.”
Of course quality should not be compromised by quantity. The task of establishing the best way to deliver effective aid is on-going and constantly subject to review and scrutiny. But the report does not make clear why an increase in aid would mean a reduction in aid effectiveness. We should aspire to quantity and quality, rather than viewing the two as incompatible.
Extreme poverty is an extreme injustice. The text of the resolution passed by 2000 holds true today. We have a joint responsibility to work together to ensure that all of humanity has a decent standard of living.
The UK has been fortunate enough to prosper from a pattern of growth which the planet cannot afford to give again. We should now honour a target which is long overdue and appreciate that the ambitious targets we have collectively set ourselves do not come cheap. In the light of this, 0.7 per cent seems a small price to pay.
© Anna Aiken is a graduate of Birmingham University’s International Development Department. She holds an MSc in International Development, and is particularly interested in faith based development and women’s rights issues.