December 01, 2007

U.S. "stingy" on foreign aid

Time magazine offers up a not-very-surprising -- and misleading -- headline with "U.S. ranked low in humanitarian aid." OK, what's your first impression? (Well, mine was "This is yet another example of a biased report and it'll take some digging to reveal the true facts," but perhaps the question should be "What would the average joe's impression of this headline be?") Of course -- the United States is a foreign aid tightwad.

A new tool to evaluate governments' humanitarian spending can help countries get aid out more efficiently to those who need it, say former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan and the Spain-based non-profit DARA. Their Humanitarian Response Index (HRI), launched Thursday in London, ranks Sweden as the world leader in humanitarian aid. Norway comes second, followed by Denmark, the Netherlands and the European Commission. The U.S. scores a lowly 16th out of 23.

Surprised at the findings? The index is less about total funding (although, per capita, the U.S. is no world leader by that measure either), and more about how well aid dollars reach their beneficiaries. The index ranks 22 developed countries and the European Commission on how consistently each adheres to guidelines they all approved in 2003, the Principles and Good Practice of Humanitarian Donorship.

"Total funding" is the key here. And the ranking, not to mention the per capita figure, are grossly misleading. More on that in a second. Here's more from the article:

For the U.S., a mediocre ranking reflects mixed performance. While funding is allocated relatively well along international guidelines, much of the country's aid is tightly earmarked for specific projects or comes as physical goods instead of cash - fine for those projects, but a big constraint on how recipients can respond to emergencies and unplanned events. The U.S. scores high grades collaborating with non-profit organizations, and excellent grades promoting accountability - second only to the E.U. But it's bottom of the pack in implementing international humanitarian and human rights laws, having refused to ratify key international treaties. Survey responses - though generally more favorable to the U.S. than the hard-data indicators - also rank U.S. aid lowest in perceptions of "neutrality" and "independence" from political and strategic considerations.

One at a time, now:

1) Isn't NOT earmarking aid for specific projects a blatant invitation for fraud and corruption? And who cares if some aid comes in the form of "physical goods" instead of cash? Again, it encourages specific use. It's akin to giving a [supposedly] hungry homeless guy $10 as opposed to some actual food. With the $10, he can buy some liquor or drugs (a good possibility) instead of needed sustenance.

2) How does lagging in "implementing international humanitarian and human rights laws" and not "ratify[ing] key international treaties" affect the US's giving of foreign aid score? These are two different things!

3) "Perceptions of 'neutrality' and 'independence.'" Right -- the US (and other nations) should just dole out the cash to governments regardless of their track records on various matters, like human rights, democracy and the like. In other words, the Palestinians should receive aid equal to that of Israel, even though the former wishes to eradicate the latter (literally) and whose government is as corrupt as the UN and its oil-for-food scandal. Or, the US should dole out the aid to countries like North Korea, Cuba, Venezuela, et. al. as if these countries' brutal authoritarian policies are completely irrelevant.

The most egregiously overlooked aspect of this article is that of private aid that comes from the US. According to Washington Times, in 2005, Americans donated more than $95 billion to the developing world. That is almost four times what the U.S. government gives in foreign aid and many times more than what Europeans give in public and private donations, according to a study by the Hudson Institute. Further, in terms of total amounts of aid to other countries, the US "spent nearly $123 billion in overseas assistance ... nearly six times more than any other nation."

In other figures, the US is the top importer of goods from developing countries ($661 billion worth). That sorta helps the economies of those countries just a little, huh? Check out these figures for more specifics on US foreign aid contributions.

I mentioned the UN oil-for-food scandal previously; wouldn't you just know that 'ol Kofi Annan himself is one of those behind this study of US "stinginess"? What a surprise.

Posted by Hube at December 1, 2007 06:32 AM | TrackBack

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Interesting the U.S. is being judged for its foreign aid giving by the guy who allowed his son and friends to benefit from Iraq's oil for food program.

Posted by: soccer dad at December 12, 2007 11:00 AM