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Less aid

Mirjam Gehrke / smsSeptember 22, 2012

The UN warns that the economic crisis could hamper implementation of the Millennium Development Goals. Global development aid has decreased by three percent, although there have been advances in fighting poverty.

FILE - April 21, 2010 file photo of two children holding hands and walk in the rubble of a slum that was demolished to make way for a parking lot Photo: AP Photo/Mustafa Quraishi, File
Image: AP

Is the glass half-full or half-empty? Some of the millennium goals to halve poverty by 2015 have already been achieved, a UN report stated. The report was published in advance of the UN general assembly in New York, to start on Monday.

The UN developed eight goals in the fields of health, education, water provision, gender equality and development in 2000. The good news is that since then, there have been advances in gender equality and primary school education.

But due to the economic and financial crisis, countries such as Greece, Spain, Austria and Belgium have made cuts in development assistance. In 2011, worldwide contributions to development aid amounted to 133.5 billion, about three percent less than the peak in 2010.

'No steps forward'

Arne Molfenter with the UN's Europe information center told DW the report should serve as a warning. "There have been no meaningful steps forward in the fight against poverty," Molfenter said. "We're getting close to the deadline … it'll be close for some regions," Molfenter added.

Containers in Hamburg Harbor Photo/Fabian Bimmer, Archiv) (ddp images/AP Photo/Fabian Bimmer, File)
Should Germany increase its development aid budget?Image: AP

The Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) said it's bracing against this trend. "The BMZ budget has even increased, to 6.42 billion euros ($8.34 billion). That's an increase of 670 million euros, making Germany the second-largest donor of bilateral aid worldwide, despite a difficult financial and economic crisis," the ministry stated. Only the United States spends more on bilateral aid.

Germany could do more

In relative numbers, Germany ranks in the middle of European countries by sending 0.4 percent of its gross domestic product on public development cooperation projects.

"In comparison with its economic power, Germany is clearly doing too little," Stefan Kreischer, a development policy spokesperson for the poverty relief group Welthungerhilfe, told DW.He added that despite the crisis, economic growth last year was three percent. "The government repeats that it is sticking to the goal of increasing development aid to 0.7 percent by 2012, but we do not see how that will be achieved," Kreischer said.

Protesters demonstrate against Spain's savings plans on September 15, 2012 in Madrid Photo: Getty Images
The economic crisis in Spain led to a cut in development aidImage: Getty Images

Only Sweden, Norway, Luxembourg, Denmark and the Netherland have already reached the 0.7 percent goal. But without the support of big players like Japan and the United States, it is extremely unlikely all the Millennium will be met, according to Molfenter.

Progress in vaccinations, education, drinking water

The UN report said that the global goals of providing access to clean drinking water and providing girls with primary school educations have been achieved. There is though still room for improvement when it comes to access to medication and vaccinations, according to the report. When calculated according to income rates, medicine in developing countries can end up being five times more expensive than the international average.

But money is not the only factor at play, said Kreischer. He explained the goal of fighting hunger would not have been met by 2015 even if aid was not cut because of faulty policies like the EU's farm subsidies.

"Large surpluses are produced that undermine agriculture in poorer countries when they are exported," he said. "They are cheaper than locally produced products, in Africa for example. That destroys farmers' livelihoods."

Frozen chicken for AfricaThe German Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development said it "works at the European level to do away with farm subsidies because they damage the development of agriculture in the countries we cooperate with." The appeal is part of the ministry's 10-point plan to develop rural areas and promote food security.

A sonar is performed on a pregnant patient at the AIDS Care Training and Support Initiative (ACTS) at White River Junction, South Africa, Monday Dec. 15, 2008. Photo: AP Photo/Denis Farrell
Access to medical treatment has improved for many womenImage: dapd

As long as agricultural products in the European Union continue to be subsidized, exports, including cheap frozen chickens, will continue to make their way to African markets, according to Kreischer.

"We have to demand the German government and other industrialized nations check all their policies to make sure they are not endangering development plans or the implementation of human rights and the Millennium Development Goals," he said.

While agreeing that the Development Goals need more than only money, Molfenter said donor countries need to keep the funding promises they have already made.

"It is important that there is a fair trade system," he said. "Developing countries need fair access to markets, and debt relief is necessary. These three points could make it so we actually achieve the Millennium Goals."

So while the glass may be half full, if donor countries don't top it off, there still won't be enough to quench developing nations' thirst.