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Fight Against Global Poverty - NZ Must Do More

New Zealand Must Do More To Assist The Fight Against Global Poverty

When disaster strikes overseas, New Zealanders respond generously. Our hearts go out to people affected by the devastating earthquake in Iran, and to the people of the cyclone-ravaged island of Niue in the Pacific. Our government is quick to pledge assistance to help these countries rebuild, and many individual New Zealanders also give generously to non-government organisations working in disaster-affected areas.

When it comes to providing long-term aid to help countries overseas to lift themselves out of poverty, however, New Zealand is lagging behind most other developed countries. In 2003-04, the New Zealand government will give around $300 million in aid to poorer countries overseas. While this may sound like a lot of money, it is only 0.23% of our national wealth or Gross National Income (GNI). Most other developed countries give a higher percentage of GNI in aid. In fact, of the 22 donor countries whose aid is monitored by the OECD, only Greece, Italy and the United States give less than New Zealand in percentage terms.

Since 1970, there has been an internationally-agreed target that all developed countries should give 0.7% of their GNI in aid to developing countries. This target has been consistently endorsed by the United Nations and in international forums such as the World Summit on Sustainable Development held in South Africa in 2002. The New Zealand government is committed in theory to reaching this goal, but has taken no concrete steps to achieve it. On the contrary, our level of overseas aid has fallen from a high of 0.52% of GNI in 1975, and has remained at a consistently low level since the 1980s.

Despite some major advances in the fight against poverty over the past 40 years, there is still a huge need for increased aid to developing countries. Poverty continues to blight the lives of most of the world’s people:

• More than 1.2 billion people survive on less than US$1 per day, while 2.8 billion live on less than US$2 per day. • Every year, more than 10 million children die of preventable diseases. • More than 1 billion people lack access to safe water, and 2.4 billion lack access to adequate sanitation. • Women are 100 times more likely to die in pregnancy and childbirth in Sub-Saharan Africa than in rich countries.

All the member countries of the United Nations have agreed that the global community must take action to eradicate the extreme poverty revealed in these statistics. They have committed themselves to achieving eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and a series of associated targets by 2015. These targets include halving the proportion of the world’s people whose income is less than $1 per day, halving the proportion of people who suffer from hunger, ensuring that all children complete primary school, and halving the proportion of people without access to safe drinking water and adequate sanitation.

Meeting the MDGs will require a major commitment of aid from developed countries. The United Nations and the World Bank have estimated that developed countries need to almost double the amount they give in aid if developing countries are to have the resources they need to meet the MDGs. Because New Zealand’s level of aid is so low, we need to do much more if we are to contribute our fair share towards fighting poverty and meeting the MDGs.

In the government’s Budget Policy Statement released in December, Finance Minister Michael Cullen announced that the 2004 Budget will ‘give priority to low- and middle-income families, enhancing their living standards and their ability to give their children real opportunity and security’. This will be welcome news for many people in this country who are struggling to make ends meet and to provide better lives for their children.

However, as the government takes steps to overcome poverty at home, we should not forget about poverty abroad. People in developing countries also want to improve their living standards and to see their children grow up with greater opportunity and security. Good aid helps people to help themselves. It gives people in poorer countries the resources to overcome the conditions that keep them in poverty, and allows them to build a better future for their children.

New Zealand is a wealthy country, and we have the resources to tackle poverty here while also helping poorer countries overseas. The government currently has a substantial budget surplus, and some of this surplus should be used to start increasing New Zealand’s overseas aid.

The Council for International Development wants the government to commit to a timetable for achieving the target of 0.7% of GNI for overseas aid by 2015. The first step towards this goal is to significantly increase the level of overseas aid in the 2004-05 budget. If the government cannot commit to such an increase at a time when the economy is in good shape and the budget is substantially in surplus, we seem destined to remain among the least generous aid donors in the developed world.

New Zealanders are justly proud of our country’s international reputation as a good global citizen. An important part of this reputation is our record of honouring international commitments. Our failure so far to take steps to reach the 0.7% target is out of character with this record. It is also out of character with the generous and open-hearted ways in which we respond, both collectively and individually, to news of disasters overseas.

The start of a new year provides an opportunity for reflection. We have much to be proud of in New Zealand’s role in international affairs, including the high quality of our aid programme. Let’s start the year by committing ourselves to contributing more to the global fight against poverty.

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