Easing the suffering of a stranger goes to the core of what it means to be a decent human being.
It’s why prosperous nations give aid to countries that need it.
When the budget came down last week with the sixth cut to aid in six years, I’d just returned from Cambodia. There I’d met resilient locals tackling the challenge of early drought. Among them was Aisa, a woman trained in agriculture by World Vision through development funding, who had somehow managed to coax from the dust a tiny crop of luscious, shining vegetables – zucchinis, tomatoes, eggplant.
Aisa sells these vegetables to feed and educate her children – and she’s taught ten other families how to do this. Her husband who works in Thailand has only recently stood up to support her entrepreneurial spirit.
Cambodia is already affected by climate change and drought like so many of our neighbours. They are one natural disaster away from catastrophe.
Aid is a vital form of future-proofing.
By supporting communities in disaster-readiness we reduce their vulnerability and help them maintain their livelihoods in rapidly changing climate conditions – essential when these communities depend on natural resources.
Aid eases suffering (since 1990 we’ve cut infant mortality by half) and builds self-reliance.
But as six successive years of cuts demonstrates, our aid budget is stupidly at the mercy of governments who use aid dollars for their political ends.
We saw a dazzling example of this on Tuesday with our government dressing up a new funding announcement in the Pacific as a boost to aid, when it was a reallocation funds from a cannibalised aid budget.
Something is rotten when, despite a $7.1 billion surplus and the fact that we have the world’s highest median wealth, Australia’s aid to vulnerable children, men and women like Aisa, has plunged to its lowest ever level.
It now sits at just 0.21% of our Gross National Income, putting us in the company of Korea and Greece. But the UK – a comparable country – is committed to giving 0.7% and Sweden gives 1.4%.
In a budget that’s doubling as an election campaign launch it’s not surprising to see a naked appeal to voters in the form of a record infrastructure spend and a ‘grand in the hand’ of middle income earners. But this is also evidence of the short-term thinking that now plagues politics.
Good aid enables the region – and the world – to flourish. It improves security by reducing the breeding grounds for violence and fanaticism in poorer countries where young people are marginalised and lacking in purpose. Aid amplifies trade and economic development.
Poverty is a complex problem but, with political will, we know how to end it. Aid is a key piece in the puzzle.
There’s a simple and obvious solution which is to follow comparable nations like the UK – protect the aid budget by law.
World Vision and other aid agencies have long been calling for a commitment to 0.5 per cent, which we believe is achievable in the next five years, and 0.7 per cent within the decade.
Just this week, we welcomed the bold recommendation made in the first report of the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Inquiry into Australia’s aid program.
In stark contrast to Federal Government’s slashing of aid, the bipartisan report is calling for an expansion of aid and for the 0.5% figure to be enshrined in law.
This makes economic sense. Well-designed aid is like anything else – it needs clear goals and metrics, sound operating principles and certainty.
If aid is protected by law, this would prevent the aid slashes like that which happened this week Cuts sprung without warning on our partners Indonesia, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Nepal – potentially lessening our influence at a time when we need to engage – and the money repurposed for the Pacific.
The welcome shift in this report shows some parliamentarians are open to a new approach. It’s the first inkling that we might be thinking ‘outside the box’ on aid in six years.
Our unwillingness to shoulder our fair share of the humanitarian load means we are failing to save lives. We are failing to strengthen human rights, economies and a stable world.
And it doesn’t reflect the generosity of most Australians.
Protecting that generosity by law so that it’s not subject to political whim is one way forward.
Let’s rebuild our international reputation by standing up for millions of vulnerable children, and hardworking women like Aisa.