Ireland on course for UN world aid target

 

IRISH political support for overseas aid remains strong and the Government is successfully pursuing its 1997 target, according to the latest OECD report on development aid.

Japan and France continue to increase their contributions, with Japan the largest aid donor at 22 per cent of the total. Ireland's contribution in 1994 showed the highest growth rate among members of the OECD's Development Assistance Committee. However, it was still the lowest proportionately among EU states.

The report does not account for current levels - in the recent Budget, overseas aid, set at 0.29 per cent of GNP, failed to meet the Government's promised phased increase of 0.05 per cent annually towards the UN target of 0.7 per cent of GNP.

Emergency aid hit a record high internationally in 1994, yet some OECD member states made significant aid cuts. There was also a rapid rise in "debt forgiveness", says the report. However, this debt relief had only limited effects, due to high interest on the original loans.

France is the only G7 economy to set its aid budget above 0.5 per cent of GNP. Ireland is mentioned among the several smaller countries, including Portugal and Luxembourg, which joined the Development Assistance Committee in recent years and continued to increase aid.

Some developing countries now need less assistance. Several dynamic economies in east Asia and Latin America are now able to meet many of their development needs through domestic savings trade, direct investment and borrowing on world capital markets. In contrast, other countries especially in Africa, are so unstable politically that an effective application of aid is difficult, says the report.

Only two developed countries give less as a GNP percentage than Ireland - the US and New Zealand. In 1994, four countries reached the UN target - Norway, Denmark, Sweden and the Netherlands. Six others - France, Canada, Luxembourg, Switzerland, Australia and Portugal - reached 0.35 per cent of GNP, while Ireland was among 11 countries, including Germany and Britain, below 0.35 per cent.

Africa is still the top priority, and both bilateral aid programmes and contributions to multilateral agencies are in decline. The latter trend reflects a fall in contributions to development banks and a trimming of support for certain UN agencies because of concern about their effectiveness and accountability.

The report notes improved reporting by member states on women orientated activities, reflecting the aims of the UN fourth world conference in Beijing last year. The data initially appear to show a strong upward trend but closer analysis reveals that the increase is almost entirely due to more countries reporting their expenditures on women in development.

Comhlamh, the association of returned development workers, said it welcomed the Government's commitment to increasing overseas aid, recognising it had started from a low base. However, a commitment to the longer term UN target was important to retain credibility for the Irish aid programme, said Mr Robin Hanan, Comhlamh co ordinator.