Development & Aid, Europe, Headlines, Latin America & the Caribbean, Poverty & SDGs

Mixed Civil Society Response to New EU Aid Funds

Tito Drago

MADRID, Sep 9 2010 (IPS) - Civil society organisations welcomed the announcement of an additional 1.27 billion dollars in development aid funding by European Commission president José Manuel Durâo Barroso, but said it was insufficient to reduce extreme poverty by 2015, as stipulated by the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

Eduardo Sánchez, the president of CONGDE, the national platform of Spain’s development NGOs, told IPS that Barroso’s announcement Tuesday did not make it clear whether the amount mentioned was extra funding, or a transfer of funds from one budget bracket to another, and added that “it is not enough, the contribution should be much greater.”

Laura Sullivan, European Policy and Campaigns manager for ActionAid, said meeting the MDGs — a series of anti-poverty targets adopted by the international community in 2000 — requires urgent aid, which means the announcement is positive.

But she warned that the additional funds must be accompanied by consistent policies in the EU member states.

At a “high level meeting” Tuesday on “Post-crisis global: efectos en los países en desarrollo y su impacto mediático” (Post-Crisis World: Effects on developing countries and their media impact), Uruguayan writer and journalist Eduardo Galeano looked beyond the issue of the amount of public aid funds, and instead criticised their destination and uses, in countries of the industrial North as well as the developing South.

The meeting, organised by the Spanish International Development Cooperation Agency (AECID) and international news agency Inter Press Service (IPS), was held in the context of the Foreign Ministry’s Spanish Cooperation Week taking place Sept. 6-11 in Madrid.

It was attended by personalities and journalists from countries of the South, and among its goals was debating the role of development aid in overcoming the global financial crisis.

In a special guest lecture, “Deadly Sins in an Upside Down World,” Galeano referred to examples of absurd expenditures such as the Berlin Wall, built in 1961 to divide that German city in two and demolished in 1989. He also said the wall recently constructed by Morocco in the territory it occupies in Western Sahara “is 60 times bigger than the Berlin Wall.”

Galeano also mentioned other walls, like the one built by the United States along its border with Mexico in an attempt to keep migrants out, Israel’s barrier in the West Bank, and Spain’s wall separating its enclaves in Ceuta and Melilla from Morocco.

Sánchez, in another presentation at the meeting organised by AECID and IPS, said that European countries and the United States should slash their armaments budgets and devote the funds to development aid.

He also proposed that the United Nations should approve a tax on international financial transactions, for the same purpose.

In 2009 alone, the United States spent 700 billion dollars on arms, while the United Nations has said that with 40 billion dollars a year, world hunger and poverty could be halved by 2015, Federico Mayor Zaragoza, chair of the IPS Board of Directors and of the Foundation for a Culture of Peace, said at the meeting.

Mayor Zaragoza emphasised the immediate need to establish worldwide recognition of democratic values and equal dignity, as “we must move from violence to a culture of dialogue, and from an economy of speculation and war to one of sustainable development throughout the world.”

For her part, Spain’s Secretary of State for International Cooperation, Soraya Rodríguez, highlighted the need to differentiate between development aid and humanitarian aid.

She said it is obviously right for rich countries like Spain to make substantial donations to address the effects of catastrophes like the earthquake in Haiti. “That is humanitarian aid,” she said.

But it is quite another challenge to support development in countries of the South, by sustaining and stimulating their economies, and encouraging access to international markets for their products.

Other important steps, she added, would be to impose a tax on the global financial system and use the revenue to promote development, and to implement an international financial system that makes it more clear where funds come from and where they go.

Meanwhile it should not be forgotten, she said, that over one billion people in the world are hungry, “something that is simply inconceivable.” She mentioned the case of Afghanistan, a country wracked by violence, “but where more casualties are due to extreme poverty than to war.”

At the high level meeting the editor of El Nuevo Diario, a Nicaraguan newspaper, Roberto Collado, said there are times when development aid from the North is not used properly, for instance when the recipient governments are tied up in red tape.

This used to happen during the 1980s in his country, when it was governed by the leftwing Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN), he said. But at present it no longer occurs, he added, even though President Daniel Ortega, a Sandinista leader, returned to power in 2007.

The reason, he said, is that at present aid funds are received directly by NGOs, most of which work in rural areas “lifting thousands and thousands of small farmers out of poverty.”

Armando Rivarola, editor of the Paraguayan newspaper ABC, stressed that it is essential “to discover what happens to aid funds,” to investigate and in particular to find out how the money is actually spent, something that does not currently occur in his country and in other Latin American nations.

Franklin Huizies, vice president of the community radio broadcasters support organisation AMARC Africa, in South Africa, said the media have an important role to play in fomenting effective development policies.

“The media should not only cover the news about events, but also initiate dialogue, inviting local and foreign governments to take part, as well as NGOs and civil society at large,” he said.

Meanwhile, Sánchez stressed that Spain’s present economic crisis has not affected volunteer work in grassroots development projects. “Volunteers are constantly at work, transferring Spanish aid to the most vulnerable populations and this year, with disasters like Haiti’s, we have seen that the solidarity of ordinary citizens has been maintained, in spite of the crisis,” he said.

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