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Canadians should care about our foreign aid budget

By in Opinions

GRAEME MARK 

The greatest risk foreign aid faces today is the threat of abandoning the successes and progress we have made because they are wrongly thought of as failures.

The argument that foreign aid money spent on less visible long-term aid projects is wasted, ineffectively spent and supporting a broken system is made all too often. The bottom line is that Canada’s 2014 foreign aid budget needs protecting.

Recently the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation published their 2014 annual letter in which they address three myths that block progress for the less privileged: poor countries are doomed to stay that way, foreign aid is a big waste and saving lives leads to overpopulation.

Foreign aid is most commonly associated with money being spent on humanitarian relief efforts. This year alone there have been several very large humanitarian crises deserving of our funding — from the Syrian war to the damage caused by Typhoon Haiyan. Thus, foreign aid is not waste of money.

The Syrian civil war is the largest of these humanitarian crises, claiming the lives of over 130,000 people. According to the World Food Program, 2.9 million refugees have fled Syria and there are currently 6.5 million internally displaced people living within Syrian borders; 7 million Syrians are in need of food, medical aid and other basic supplies.

Of Canada’s $5 billion aid budget, the Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development has spent CDN$612 million helping the Syrian people over the past three years.

It is easy to justify spending money on these highly visible humanitarian crises. We should be providing financial aid during these situations and doing more in terms of physical work and labor to help the people in such disaster situations. However, disaster relief spending only makes up a small but very visible part of the foreign aid budget; much of the budget is spent on less visible projects aimed at breaking the cycle that leads to chronic poverty, famine and disease.

Foreign aid is effective and has made a large impact on the lives of billions, and there are metrics to prove it. According to the World Health Organization, the world’s infant mortality rate has dropped from 63 deaths per 1000 births in 1990 to 35 deaths per 1000 births in 2012.

Absolute poverty — living on a $1.25 dollars a day or less, adjusted for inflation — is down worldwide with the United Nations saying it has decreased more in the past 50 years than it has in the past 500 years.

To put this into perspective, World Bank reported the number of people living in absolute poverty as down from 43 per cent of the world’s population in 1990 to 20 per cent today in 2014.

In the past 10 years WHO has seen the mortality rate from malaria drop by 25 per cent. In 2012 there were 223 newly reported cases of polio; this number is down more than 99 per cent from 25 years ago when there were 330,000 new cases of polio a year. People in almost every country in the world are more likely to live longer and less likely to be hungry than they were ten years ago.

These amazing successes have been made possible because of the investment nations like Canada have made in developing countries. After hearing all this good news you might think the majority of the work is done and you can understand why the current Canadian government thinks it is reasonable to cut back spending on foreign aid. This is simply not the case.

The WHO reported that nine million children aged five or younger died in 2012 and 6.3 million of these children died from preventable ailments such as pneumonia, diarrhea, malaria and measles — all of which were worsened by birth problems and inadequate nutrition. In addition, World Bank estimates that there are 2.4 billion people still living on less than $2 a day. These numbers are unacceptable.

In 2013 the Canadian government cut the aid budget by $370 million and by the end of the year another $290 million from the budget went unspent. By cutting Canada’s aid budget we are risking the lives of millions living in abject poverty, tarnishing Canada’s reputation and reducing our country’s impact in ending the injustice of extreme poverty.

Development work has not been perfect. There have been setbacks and there will continue to be more but today the money spent on foreign aid is being used more effectively, more efficiently and more transparently than ever before. The money Canada spends today on foreign aid is helping to build a more stable and peaceful world — but we need to keep doing this.

Canada’s 2014 federal budget was released on Feb. 11 and foreign aid was spared from this year’s round of budget cuts. This is excellent news, but we should still be concerned about the budgets to come.

The world expects Canada to lead, and so do we as Canadians. Be vocal with your Member of Parliament to ensure that Canada continues to help those who don’t have the means to help themselves.

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