There is nothing that separates us from those living in extreme poverty but the sheer chance of birth. Those of us lucky enough to live in the material prosperity of Australia are no more worthy of our good fortune than our neighbours. Yet children living in extreme poverty face a series of hurdles which few can entirely overcome.
What we’re talking about here is the kind of senseless poverty that sees people living on less than $2 a day; where children are prevented from breaking free of the cycle of extreme poverty by things like a lack of education, the spread of preventable diseases and the absence of opportunities for women and girls.
This is why Australian aid is so important. While by no means a silver bullet, it can lend these children a boost over some of the larger hurdles, giving them a better chance of going on to live a long and productive life.
Just take a look at the impact of vaccines. Vaccines not only save lives, we now know that children who are vaccinated and grow up healthy have a much better chance of living a successful life. They do better at school, and contribute more to their families, communities and societies. Yet 22 million children continue to miss out on lifesaving vaccines.
Australian aid has achieved so much already. It has helped halve the number of people living without clean water, played a critical role in bringing polio to the brink of complete eradication and helped East Timor to improve primary education enrolment rates from 64% to 86% in just five years.
Yet the Labor Government has taken the shears three times to our aid budget, bringing the total cut to some $5.8 billion. And instead of holding the Government accountable to this promise, the Opposition merely accepted the cuts and moved on. Rather than meeting our moral promises, we have taken resources from one pocket and put into the other pocket and called it “aid”.
This is more than a budgetary issue. The human costs of these cuts will be measured in years to come in the number of lives not saved, the children not educated and vaccinated, in regions left undeveloped.
In the final week of this election campaign, we urge you to ensure Australia’s leaders keep their promise of increasing international aid to just 50c in every $100 of our gross national income by 2016/17 – a target that has already been pushed back from the initial goal of 2015/16 in last year’s budget.
We call on both major parties to make a renewed commitment of 0.5% GNI towards foreign aid and honour their promise to the world’s poor.
Michael Sheldrick Akram Azimi
2013 Western Australian of the Year (Youth) 2013 Young Australian of the Year
Friday 2nd August 2013 goes down as a dark day in Australian history. A third round of cuts to the aid budget since 2012 now makes it almost inconceivable that the Government will meet its commitment to 0.5% by 2017-18.
Friday’s $1 billion of cuts over four years means that there's a total of $5.8 billion less aid than promised in 2010.
We’ve covered our leaders’ lost moral leadership in The Guardian but want I want to do here is counteract the government spin that seeks to tell you all is well with the Australian aid program.
New Treasurer Chris Bowen said that the $5.7 billion devoted to foreign aid for 2013-14 was the largest in Australian history. Well, yes if you look at it in purely cash terms (Australia is much richer today) but not if you look at it as a percentage of Australia’s wealth. The UN’s target for donors to cough up 0.7% of their national income is the international benchmark. Australia has never quite got there – today it stands at 0.37%. It did best in 1975 when it reached 0.65%. Aid levels then declined in the 1980s and 90s before making a modest recovery after 2006. Since 2009 Australian aid has increased every year in percentage terms.
So what is the problem?
Well, first there is the issue of declining quality. The Australian public rightly expects foreign aid to be spent on reducing poverty, not to fill holes in domestic spending. Yet we now have $375 million a year of aid money being spent on locking up refugees in Australia.
Aid is also being increased to Papua New Guinea by 20%, not on the basis of need but as a "deal" for taking our boat people.
Secondly, a delayed commitment easily becomes a broken one. Imagine that you’re looking for a mortgage to buy a home. You promise the bank that you will repay the loan but won’t give them anything for the first four years but in year five you’ll pay the loan off in full. No bank is going to take you seriously. But that is the Government’s new plan for aid increases: next to nothing for four years then a $2 billion boost between 2016-17 and 2017-18 (the record single year increase is $620 million).
The good news is that nothing is inevitable. We know that Australians aren’t as mean as their government. More than 60,000 have signed the Movement to End Poverty petition and many more would vote to keep Aid Uncut if they had a choice.
So we’ll keep going. No one said the battle to end global poverty would be easy. It’s up to all of us to keep up the fight.
It is a sorry state of affairs that even though there is enough food to feed everyone in the world, 1 in 8 continue to go to sleep hungry every night. It is equally heartbreaking that 3 million children are denied a future for this reason and die every year from hunger and malnutrition. Growth stunting is rife in infants; some 165 million infants in the developing world will grow up to lead lives which are permanently impeded by this ghoulish food deficit.
This is why on Saturday me and 45,000 of my fellow compatriots assembled in Hyde Park at the Big IF, to rally the G8 leaders meeting in Northern Ireland at the end of the week to think long and hard about issues such as these, and to come up with solutions to the problems posed by hunger.
The Big IF itself is made up of over 200 organisations, many of whom were exhibiting on the day, which lent the event a real festival-like atmosphere. As I walked around before the main event I was impressed by the range of organisations on show, from your typical development stalwarts such as Concern Worldwide, UNICEF and our own GPP, down to Fairtrade clothing brands and even the Vegan Society. What's more, everyone seemed empowered with the kind of vigour that manifests itself only at these sorts of events. You could smell passion in the air.
Once the main event started we were treated to a number of talks from Danny Boyle, Bill Gates, Natasha Kaplinsky, ex-Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams and many others. Danny Boyle commended us all in carrying on a proud national tradition of “people in parks” fighting for change, all the while confident that this is “a fight that will be won”.
Bill Gates was also full of praise, commenting that “The UK is keeping its promise to the world's poor, largely because all of you remind your leaders regularly, and loudly, that this stuff matters.”
Bill Gates was on the money. After a touching segment led by Daniel Roche and Charlie McDonnell (of Outnumbered and YouTube fame respectively) and two young Tanzanians who had encountered growing up the very hunger we are all vying to end, we were then led by musician Angélique Kidjo in a mass singalong featuring a message of love and compassion she hoped would reach the spires of the Houses of Parliament.
It seems like our calls were heard. During the day's events, it broke through that at the Hunger Summit that morning, David Cameron had pledged an additional £375 million of funding towards fighting hunger. Applause erupted from the crowd. This was the icing on the cake, which certainly left me feeling vindicated that we had each accomplished something bigger than ourselves. A fantastic result.
The hard work is not over, however. There's another Big IF in Belfast this coming weekend, ahead of the G8 summit, and if anything today's event has driven into the public consciousness that we should open up the discourse around hunger. Hunger is awful, even unnecessary, and there are real solutions out there. It's just up to us to come together and speak up, to send a message to the G8 that it is not only possible to defeat hunger, but we cannot and will not abide it.
Today marks a watershed moment in the effort to eradicate extreme poverty. 43 years since the commitment to spend 0.7% of GDP on aid was made at the 1970 UN General Assembly, the UK Government has kept its promise to the world’s poorest people. The first of the world’s richest countries to do so; the UK has set an outstanding example ahead of the G8 Summit in June.
Despite tough economic times, the UK recognises that aid works and that - both in financial and humanitarian terms - the cost of doing something is less than the cost of doing nothing. Take polio, for example. Thanks to the UK Government’s leadership in tackling this debilitating disease, millions of children have been vaccinated as a result of British aid, and only 0.1% of the disease survives, globally.
The significance of today’s announcement cannot be understated. It has signaled a seismic shift in the way the rich countries treat poorer countries. And finally we can focus not on how much money we spend but how effective the money spent can be.
But there is more to do. We need to ensure that multi-national corporations pay their fair share, so that the developing world doesn’t lose three times what it receives in aid to tax-dodging each year. In poorer countries we need to stop land the size of London being grabbed by foreign investors every six days. And we must protect farmers and give them the chance to live off the food they grow, rather than fueling cars in rich countries.
We must do all these things. But today, on this rare and historic occasion, we must make the time for something else. We must take the time to say ‘thank you’. Decisions like the one the UK took today are brave enough in buoyant financial times, so the fact that it was taken in relatively stormy waters makes it all the more worthy of recognition.
Today we recognise that millions of people across the world will have their lives changed by this decision. Today, we should take the time to thank the UK Government for this historic step and thank the millions of people and organisations who over the last 43 years tirelessly campaigned for this moment, because tomorrow, the work towards the next step forward begins anew.
Today George Osborne will rise and deliver one of the most anticipated Budgets in British history. It’s historic for a number of reasons, not least because of the economic challenges domestically, but he will also have the opportunity to fulfil a 43-year commitment – spending 0.7% of the UK’s income on international aid.
We’ve been arguing for this for so long that almost everyone assumes we already have it… we don’t. It’s taken hundreds of meetings, thousands of marchers, millions of petition signatures to carry through a 1970 UN resolution, and the UK will be the first G8 country to do so. Campaigning alongside the UK’s Enough Food for Everyone (IF) campaign and nearly 100 leading charities to demand an end to hunger– we know aid works.
As a result, we can now focus not on how much we spend but how the money is spent. At the Global Poverty Project, we want to use this opportunity as a springboard to eradicate one of the oldest and most tragic diseases – polio. We have a unique window of opportunity to end this disease, and alongside the UK, we’re asking countries globally to help fund a new plan that has been put together to ensure a polio-free world by 2018.
Increased aid has accelerated vaccination programmes and decreased the prevalence of polio. Polio has now been eradicated by 99.9% and remains endemic only in three countries – Afghanistan, Pakistan and Nigeria. The Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI), comprising of the World Health Organization, Rotary International, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and UNICEF, and supported by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, has long campaigned for funding that will see an end to polio – and they’ve almost succeeded. With the end of polio within reach, the GPEI has worked closely with the governments of polio-affected countries to put together the plan to finally wipe out this disease – the Polio Eradication and Endgame Strategic Plan 2013-2018.
The UK has a lot to be proud of; we’ve been a global leader committing around £100m to polio eradication efforts over the past five years. But this funding ends next month. Recommit this funding and the legacy of 0.7% could be the eradication of the second-ever human disease in history.
April’s Global Vaccine Summit in Abu Dhabi, hosted by the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and Bill Gates, is the chance for the British government to announce its new funding commitment. We’re campaigning for the Department for International Development to make another three-year commitment to help us rid the world of polio. The GPEI’s new Strategic Plan sets out a clear strategy to end this disease – secure the necessary support and say goodbye polio.
Today we hope George Osborne will confirm 0.7% of our income on international aid. This is our opportunity to prove what’s achievable through well-directed international aid. And by continuing to take the lead on this issue, we can help convince other countries to do the same. Together, we can end polio.