Reducing poverty worldwide. Supporting millions of girls into education. Stopping people from going hungry. Ensuring millions of safe births. Helping to almost completely eradicate polio. Helping the fight against female genital mutilation (FGM). Providing millions of food rations for Syrian refugees. Building schools and toilets in Kenya. Giving life-saving relief supplies to Afghan villagers after an earthquake destroyed thousands of homes.
International aid has done all of this and more over the years but despite a diabolical cocktail of global crises, in 2022, some of the wealthiest countries in the world are planning on giving their life-saving aid budgets the chop. These are decisions being made by political elites in the safety of glass houses, yet the reverberations are felt by the most vulnerable around the world.
When the UK cut its budget for international aid — also known as Official Development Assistance, or ODA — in 2020, for example, it meant that aid being sent to Syria was slashed by 69%, including cuts to programmes on education, health, maternal health, and for Palestinian refugees. As a result, according to charity Syria Relief, more than 40,000 Syrian children are now out of school as a direct result of the aid cuts.
In 1970, the United Nations set a target for countries to contribute 0.7% of their Gross National Income (GNI) to international aid. But the 0.7% target is just that: a target and is not required by law.
With climate-change induced flooding in Nigeria and Pakistan; millions facing acute hunger in Nigeria, Ethiopia, South Sudan, Yemen, Afghanistan, and Somalia; an unfolding humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan in which millions of Afghans are suffering from starvation, with some even forced to sell body parts to feed their families; the continuing refugee crisis in Syria where millions of people are still living displacement camps more than 10 years after the conflict began; and the famine gripping Tigray, campaigners agree that it is more important than ever to maintain, if not increase, international aid.
But we’re seeing a worrying trend of donor countries cutting their budgets. Here’s what you need to know — and how you can help.
Who’s Giving Aid the Chop?
Norway, formerly an international aid leader, announced plans on Oct. 6 to cut the proportion of gross national income that it spends on foreign aid from 1.15% to 0.75%. That translates as a cut from 47.4 billion kroner ($4.5 billion) to 43.8 billion Norwegian kroner ($4.1 billion).
If the proposed budget cut goes ahead, 0.75% would be the lowest amount in foreign aid the country has contributed since 1976.
In a time when Norway is making money like never before, a record LOW portion (0,75%) is budgeted to development aid. Less for children suffering around the world. Embarrassing. @jonasgahrstore@AnneBeathe_https://t.co/ohD37hVxNU— Redd Barna (@ReddBarna) October 6, 2022
NGOs have labeled the move “embarrassing” and a bad example for the rest of the world.
Sweden has also signaled its intention to cut its foreign aid budget. The country’s former target of spending 1% of gross national income on aid will be abolished, according to an announcement made on Oct. 17, 2022.
One European Commission official summed up the news: “One of the good ones lost.”
In 2020, the UK cut its international aid budget from 0.7% to 0.5% — despite the 0.7% actually being enshrined in UK law. The reasoning was sparse but the Chancellor of the Exchequer noted it was because the UK was in a “time of unprecedented crisis.”
The cut from 0.7% to 0.5% represented a decrease of £4.5 billion, bringing the amount the UK gives in aid each year to £10 billion. To put that into perspective, the UK spends £19 billion a year just on food waste.
In 2021, Italy's ratio of ODA compared to its gross national income (GNI) was 0.28%, up from 0.22% in 2020. But it’s still a far cry from the UN’s recommended 0.7%. With the new right-wing government under Giorgia Meloni’s leadership, we don’t have high hopes for that to change in the near future.
Who Are the New Aid Champions?
Spain is setting a great example when it comes to international aid spending. In October 2022, Spain announced that it will increase aid from 0.28% of the nation’s gross national income in 2022 to 0.34% of GNI in 2023, a €912 million (US$890 million) increase — and there’s even more where that came from.
At the beginning of 2022, the Spanish government launched a new bill for Sustainable Development Cooperation and Global Solidarity. The new law draft reportedly includes, for the first time in Spain’s history, the objective of increasing Spain’s ODA to 0.7% of GNI by 2030, making Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez’s government a true ODA champion.
Who Is Still on the Fence?
Germany is negotiating its 2023 budget at the moment.
The energy crisis and inflation has definitely hit Europe’s biggest economy and the most recent budget draft marks a 10% decrease overall in government spending — which is also being applied to ODA and humanitarian aid.
The Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), the department that develops German development policy, was allocated €11.1 billion for next year, a €1.3 billion or 10% decrease compared to 2022.
Especially concerning is that contributions to multilateral organisations such as the World Food Programme (WFP), UNAIDS, and the World Health Organisation (WHO) will be dramatically reduced — undermining Germany’s role as a champion for global cooperation.
How Can You Help?
ODA is more essential now than ever, with millions of people around the world facing increased difficulties amid unprecedented global crises.
You can help by joining Global Citizens supporting our End Extreme Poverty NOW campaign — which is prioritising empowering women and girls, taking climate action, breaking the systemic barriers that keep people in poverty, and uplifting and protecting the world’s activists — by calling on these governments to increase their aid budgets.
1. Put the pressure on Germany
2. Put the heat on Canada
3. Demand the UK restore aid
4. Tell Norway to stay a development champion