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The reality of aid

By Dr Sudhirendar Sharma

The ongoing war on terror has subsumed all concerns about poverty, hunger and human survival, says the 'Reality of Aid Report 2006'

Following 9/11, the world has undergone a dramatic transformation in which 'the war on terror' has come to justify counter-terrorism as well as counter-violence. Counter-terrorism has become the dominant culture of our times. The fear of terrorism is so overwhelming that the US allegedly spent three times more on its 'war on terror' than it should have invested on the reconstruction of Black-dominated hurricane-devastated areas.

The war on terror has subsumed such concerns as poverty, hunger and human survival. No wonder that of the additional $27 billion in aid made available by developed countries during 2000-04, Afghanistan and Iraq alone cornered 37%. Only $ 6.9 billion were spent on meeting the Millennium Development Goals (MDG). Aid is clearly being used as a leveraging instrument to help the US in its battle against terrorism.

"The rights of the poor have been greatly compromised by the events following September 11, 2001," concludes 'Reality of Aid Report 2006'. "As one-sixth of the population of developing countries falls victim to poverty, preventable diseases and human rights violations, growing militarism plunges the world into greater instability and war." No wonder, cumulative Official Development Assistance (ODA) is still stuck at 0.22% of the combined Gross National Incomes (GNI) of the donor countries, as against the target of 0.7% pledged at the 2002 Monterrey Consensus on Financing for Development. Whatever little gains were made during 2000-04 were diverted towards the 'war on terror'.

Published once in two years, 'Reality of Aid' provides an authoritative assessment of how governments address the issue of poverty, and whether aid and development cooperation policies are rightfully put into practice.

Established in 1993, Reality of Aid is a network of civil society organisations from both the North and South.

Launching a scathing attack on the increasing appropriation of development aid for internal security in the post-9/11 years, the report questions: "Whose security is being protected; in whose interest and at the expense of what?" In many ways, development cooperation is becoming a crude extension of donor-countries' foreign and defence policies of the Cold War era. Global military spending, which currently exceeds $1 trillion and is at its highest level since the Cold War, reflects the clear diversion of development aid.

Reality of Aid points out that the US, Australia and Denmark have diverted their aid budgets to counter terrorism. The Chancellor of the Exchequer put the total cost of UK operations in Afghanistan and Iraq at $ 8 billion, in excess of the annual budget of DFID, the Department for International Development, one of the largest development assistance windows for developing countries. Another study has found that 47 low-income countries which were considered major US allies in the 'war on terror' received 90% of the military aid provided by the US to these countries between 2000-04.

As 32 active conflicts engage 26 of the low-human-development-category countries, investment in arms on the pretext of internal security and at the cost of the world's poor makes greater sense. For the US-led coalition, the war on terror gets preference over the lives of more than a billion people who survive on less than a dollar a day. Undoubtedly, the millennium donor pledge "to spare no effort" for poverty reduction before 2015, pales before the increased military spending.

Had it not been for the sustained 0.7% contribution by five European countries, viz Norway, Denmark, Luxembourg, Sweden and the Netherlands, development assistance would not have touched an all-time high of $79.5 billion in 2004 (this includes additional assistance of $27 billion). Surprisingly, the US contributes only 0.17% of its GNI, vying with Italy for last place among the 22 donor countries. However, the US capitalises on its military supremacy in monopolising decisions on aid disbursement.

Scanning aid statistics, the report examines how development aid works across the developing world, and puts under the scanner the current policy directions of donor countries. In doing so, it champions the cause of poor and vulnerable people across the developing world, and questions the policy of marginalising states that are considered "threats" because they do not conform to the policies of the US-led coalition.

Crucially, however, the report hinges its core argument around the assumption that development aid is the panacea for lifting the world's poor out of abject poverty. In fact, development aid has long been considered a conditional generosity that comes with the tag of continuance of the 'colonial gaze'. The act of giving maintains the status quo by helping the poor only so much: it does not empower them to take control of their lives. The neo-liberal economic theories of the 1980s and 1990s have relied on a 'free market' to deliver human wellbeing. This has generally put economic interests above human welfare, further marginalising the poor. The failure of the structural adjustment programmes spearheaded by the World Bank and IMF clearly indicates that development (aid) is becoming another tool to perpetuate colonialism.

The Reality of Aid network unfolds the hidden reality of aid, which continues to create the illusion of equality in a world that is inherently unequal.

'The Reality of Aid 2006: An Independent Review of Poverty Reduction and Development Assistance 2006'. IBON Books, Quizon City and Zed Books, London. 386 pp

InfoChange News & Features, November 2006