Shortfall in development aid will cost lives

29 October 2010

Shortfall in development aid will cost lives

The agreement signed between the newly governing parties is not only bad news for people of limited means in the Netherlands, but also for the millions of people elsewhere in the world forced to live on less than a euro a day. Is that something to be proud of?

Ewout Irrgang is a Member of Parliament for the SP

It was with pride that Geert Wilders announced during the presentation of the governmental accord - and the agreement which means that his party will 'tolerate' the government without participating in it – that almost a billion euros would be cut from development spending. Actually he sold himself short, because in reality the eventual sum could be somewhat higher than that. Should this government succeed in portraying various international military missions as development cooperation, savings will amount to several hundred million more than this.

While it has been made quite clear by the incoming government that nobody in the Netherlands will be spared from the effects of the billions of euros in cuts, the coalition parties act as if their reductions in spending will be painless for people elsewhere in the world. Unfortunately, there is no such thing as a free spending cut. That less money for developing countries will literally mean death for millions of adults and children has already been demonstrated by the global economic crisis. The World Bank and the IMF have calculated that the crisis means that in 2015 some 53 million additional people will be living in extreme poverty than would otherwise have been the case. According to the World Bank, between 2009 and 2015, 1.2 million children under the age of five will have died as an indirect result of this crisis.

This raises the question of just what will be the concrete results when the Netherlands cuts its development budget by a fifth. The country has this year given €75 million to the Global Fund for combating HIV/Aids, malaria and tuberculosis. 61% of total Global Fund spending – more than €6 in every ten – goes on the fight against HIV/Aids, and the majority of this is devoted to the provision of inexpensive drugs which inhibit the development of Aids. Primary inhibition treatment for Aids costs, according to Doctors Without Frontiers, some €70 per patient per year. If the contribution from the Global Fund is reduced by a fifth, 100,000 people a year will no longer have access to the drugs needed for this treatment. For them, the easy reduction imposed by the right-wing government will mean a grim struggle against death, a warning which Doctors Without Frontiers has already made in connection with similar cuts made by the US.

Another example: the Netherlands spends annually a half-a-billion euros on the campaign to enable all children from developing countries to go to school. Globally, some 72 million children still do not do so. In order to achieve the 100% target by 2015, some $16 billion is needed, according to estimates from the Oxfam Novib/Global campaign for education. A reduction of 20% in our budget, amounting to €100 million, means that around 600.000 children will not be at school in 2015 who would have been had the cuts not been imposed.

These two examples concern only 10% of the total development budget. They nevertheless demonstrate that cuts in development aid do not come free of cost. Real people of flesh and blood are their victims. And this is to say nothing about the proposal to pass off international military missions as if they were development aid. As long as, for every dollar spent globally on education, food and medical aid, $12 are spent on bombs and grenades, no-one should be arguing, surely, for a further lopsided growth between the two. Wilders says he's proud of these plans. But the three right-wing parties responsible for them should instead be ashamed of plans which mean that the bill for the crisis will be laid at the door of the world's poorest people.

This article appeared on 20th October, 2010 in the national daily NRC Next.

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