Zack Gross
Zack Gross

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Canadian Aid Policy Falls Short

Brandon Sun “Small World” Column, Sunday,  October 5 / 08

Zack Gross

The Reality of Aid Report, an annual document written by foreign aid experts in both the “developed” and “developing” parts of our world and released this year, interestingly, on September 11th, has called for more of an emphasis on poverty alleviation and less on fighting terrorism.  As the Canadian election campaign enters its final week, our commitment to the rest of the world – economically, socially and environmentally – is a topic that begs for more attention.
The Reality of Aid Network and the Canadian Council for International Co-operation (CCIC) raise many issues in this Report that call into question the inaction that has followed Western and Canadian promises on global poverty alleviation.  Detailed information can be found at  The Network brings together more than forty civil society umbrellas of organizations based in twenty-two donor countries as well as in Asia, Africa and the Americas.  CCIC is a coalition of one hundred Canadian NGOs active in development assistance around the world.

The Reality of Aid begins with the reality of poverty.  Nearly half the world’s population lives on less than $2 per day.  Fifty thousand people die every day of poverty-related causes (one every three seconds), while the 20% at the top of the heap control 80% of the world’s wealth.  Even though Western nations, through the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), have promised for many years to increase aid spending to 0.7% of their Gross National Incomes (GNI), the average continues to stagnate at 0.28%, with Canada at just 0.3%.  There are currently no plans in our country to announce increases in that figure.

Sub-Saharan Africa is by far the poorest part of our world.  This is compounded by the effects of global climate change (drought and flooding in different areas), conflict both internal and regional, human rights abuses, corruption, disease, and foreign-controlled resource extraction (oil, gold, diamonds, coltan for cell phones and more) that degrades the environment, does not benefit the public, and creates a colonial situation with weak or dictatorial governance.  In the 2007 United Nations Human Development Index, 34 Sub-Saharan African countries appeared in the bottom 40 countries overall.

While past G8 Summits have pledged an overall increase of as much as $25 billion in aid to Africa by 2010, very little has yet to be delivered.  It would seem, instead, to have been diverted to Asia, where Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan have become the recipients of one-third of new aid resources from the West.  Afghanistan has become Canada’s largest aid recipient the past two years.  The “war on terror” trumps the “war on poverty”, driven by the politics of foreign policy rather than concern about the human family.  As well, Canada’s role as a peace-builder and humanitarian aid-giver are in jeopardy, given our close alignment with Western allies active in this combat mission.

Changes in government policy over the past two years have stalled our commitment to environmental treaties that would address climate change, which impacts most strongly on the poor who depend most on the environment around them.  We are not meeting previous obligations we entered into related to biodiversity and, of course, Kyoto.  As well, our promised support for a UN agency for women, headed by an Under-Secretary General, has seen no action taken.  Support for the Voluntary Sector has also waned – that part of our society, and international civil society that speaks for the aspirations of all citizens - through funding cuts and lack of action on accords.

The Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) was founded in 1967, during our country’s centennial celebrations, to lead Canada in sharing its wealth and expertise with the developing world.  Over the years, unfortunately, development cooperation has been a low priority in government and often with public opinion as well.  Over the past five years, with the world beset by natural disasters on one hand, and successful campaigns, such as the celebrity-driven Make Poverty History effort on the other, Canada’s relationship with the Global South has risen in credibility as a top ten, instead of top forty, issue.

The message during the election campaign from CCIC and the Reality of Aid Network is that much good work and many lofty promises have become stalled in the wake of a new “Cold War” era, where security concerns have forced human development onto the back burner.  Some argue that making real inroads against poverty – through the funding of education, health and governance programs – would have a greater effect on blunting terrorism than any amount of military might.  Canada can show leadership in that regard by embracing again its proposed action on the UN Millennium Development Goals and working toward a sustainable global future, economically, socially and environmentally.

Zack Gross coordinates a provincial fair trade outreach program for the 
Manitoba Council for International Co-operation (MCIC), a coalition of 38 international development organizations.
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