The Federal Government recently announced a one-off tax levy to meet the costs of reconstruction following the recent flood events in South east Queensland and Victoria. A correspondent to the Townsville Bulletin last week suggested that foreign aid be halved for the next five years to pay for the costs of reconstruction.
We need to keep things in perspective. Australia is not alone in suffering natural disasters. Oxfam, the International Aid NGO, reported that 20 million people were directly affected by the floods in Pakistan in July 2010 and that 1.6 million homes were either totally or partially or totally destroyed. There the death toll was almost 2000.
Earlier this year in Brazil, 600 people were killed as a result of mudslides and floods that followed record rain falls. Thousands were left homeless.
We are not alone in our suffering and we thankfully have the capacity to assist people in their recovery. Many families in Pakistan will never recover from devastation caused by last year’s floods.
Overseas aid is not only about helping victims of natural disasters as important as that is. The main goal is to end the cycle of poverty that traps so many people in our world today.
Our daughter Lana recently spent a year working with Caritas Australia establishing agricultural and other development projects amongst some of Cambodia’s poorest people.
I will never forget our conversation about of one of the villages she visited. She told me that the income of a better-off family of two parents and five children was $2.30 a day! I remember thinking $2.30 was less that what I paid for a cup of coffee earlier that morning.
It is to counter such poverty that we have overseas aid. The United Nations has set 0.7% of Gross National Income (GNI) as the target for developed countries to contribute in aid to developing countries. In 2009, Norway, Luxembourg, Denmark, Sweden and the Netherlands all exceeded the 0.7% target.
Australia committed $4.4 billion to overseas aid in 2010-11 which is estimated to be 0.33% of our GNI. In comparison the United Kingdom committed $US11.5 billion which represents 0.52% of GNI. Current Australian Government policy is to increase aid as a fraction of GNI to 0.42% by 2013-14.
Recent events have given us a glimpse of the fear and uncertainty that many people in our world face on a day to day basis. My hope is that rather than cut foreign aid contributions as some suggest, we find it in our hearts to be more generous to those in our world less fortunate than us.