Hijacking Global Aid

The world’s military spending has surged back up to $1 trillion (U.S.) a year, the old Cold War level, thanks chiefly to the "war on terror." That is $200 billion more than in 2000, before Al Qaeda’s 9/11 attacks.

And it is money the United States, Canada and other major donors could have put to far better use helping the world’s poorest by meeting the United Nations target of spending 0.7 per cent of our wealth on aid. We are not even halfway there.

And that means hardship for the 1 billion people who live on $1 a day.

Osama bin Laden poses as a hero of the downtrodden. But he hurt the wretched of the Earth by launching the 9/11 attacks that led to the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq.

That is not the only ugly truth in The Reality of Aid, 2006, an annual checkup published today by the Canadian Council for International Co-operation (CCIC) and a global network of development groups.

Some countries, including Canada, are lobbying to have military and security spending in trouble spots counted as aid, an accounting sleight-of-hand which risks further diluting UN efforts to curb poverty.

"Including military assistance in aid spending is opening the door even wider for donor governments to divert scarce resources away from ending poverty," says Gerry Barr, who heads CCIC.

He is right. The $80 billion the world spends on aid has increased from $50 billion five years ago. But of that $30 billion in new money, $10 billion went to Iraq and Afghanistan, when Africa’s need is desperate.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper should ensure our $3.8 billion (Canadian) foreign aid budget not be diluted by our pledge of $1.3 billion for Afghanistan and Iraq. Africa must not pay for Al Qaeda’s criminality.

Backsliding by Canada and other donors would imperil the shaky recovery of the global aid effort, which was dealt a huge blow in the 1990s when the Group of Seven countries cut aid by a cumulative $40 billion.

That loss has now been made up. But no new money has gone into aid in the past 15 years.

Canada and others are right to help Afghanistan thwart terror. But that does not excuse the G-7 from its moral duty to help Africans and others who are in worse straits. Since 2000, military spending per person in the G-7 has jumped by $168. Aid spending has risen by $11.

We need to rethink our priorities.

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