Futuro Africano, 14 April - It was feared that development aid to Africa could be dramatically reduced in 2009 as consequence of the global crisis. Fresh figures show that only growth fell somewhat short of expectations, but that donors at large increased their aid in 2009. Outlooks for 2010 are optimistic.
New figures for official development aid transfers in 2009 were presented today by OECD, the organisation trusted with registering and monitoring development aid world-wide. Despite fears, the figures showed a modest increase in aid during 2009.
In 2009, total official development assistance from OECD member states "rose slightly" by 0.7 percent to US$ 119.6 billion, representing 0.31 percent of donor countries' gross national income (GNI). This means that earlier aims for rapid aid growth in 2009 were not met, but the results were nevertheless far better than feared.
In fact, excluding debt relief, growth in development aid during 2009 was even more impressive. Debt relief had been especially high in 2005 and 2006 due to exceptional packages for Iraq and Nigeria and remained somewhat high well into 2008. By 2009, debt relief packages had however shrunk to very small amounts. Excluding debt relief, the rise in development aid from 2008 to 2009 therefore is set at 6.8 percent by OECD.
While overall figures showed a positive development in 2009, several donor countries however strongly reduced their aid efforts during the year. Interestingly, those cutting aid budgets strongest were not the countries most struck by crisis. Austria and Italy cut aid by over 30 percent last year, with Austria blaming this on reduced debt relief and Italy simply reducing development aid spending under the new government.
Of the crisis-struck countries, Ireland sited "budgetary pressures" as its reason to cut aid by 19 percent, Africa being the main target area for Irish aid. Portugal cut aid by 16 percent, while Greece and Iceland cut aid by 12 percent due to economic and budgetary crisis at home.
Spain, living through its toughest crisis for decades, however maintained aid levels. With a reduction of 1.2 percent in real numbers from 2008 to 2009, Spanish aid as a level of its GDP still increased last year. OECD noted that the Madrid government had approved "significant spending late in 2009," which would only take effect in 2010. Spain was therefore maintaining an increasing trend of its development aid despite its deep crisis.
More surprising and disappointing was the negative trend in Germany, which is the world's third largest donor after the US and France. Despite many promises by Chancellor Angela Merkel's government to substantially increase aid to Africa, German aid fell by 12 percent last year. Berlin blamed the drop on "reduced debt relief," which it however claimed to have "outweighed" by increased bilateral aid. Also Japan disappointed by an 11 percent drop in aid levels last year.
These reductions were outweighed by many other donors, significantly increasing their aid in 2009. Most important, given its mere size, US aid grew by over 5 percent last year. Also in 2009, Washington was the largest donor providing US$ 28.7 billion in aid funds. Most important, Presidents George Bush and Barack Obama fulfilled their promise to increase aid to Africa the most. US aid to sub-Saharan Africa by 10.5 percent last year to US$ 7.5 billion. But still, Washington only spends 0.20 percent of its GDP on development aid, less than half of European countries.
Other significant aid increases were registered in France. The Paris government spent 17 percent more on development aid last year, making France the world's second largest donor. Most of France's increased aid went into "bilateral lending", and Africa remains a key partner for France.
Also the UK, the world's fourth largest donor, lived up to PM Gordon Brown and his predecessor Tony Blair's promises by increasing aid by almost 15 percent. During 2009, London had seen a "scaling up of its bilateral aid," with a special focus on Africa.
Other donors increasing aid by more than 10 percent last year include Belgium, Finland, Hungary, Norway, Poland, South Korea and Switzerland. Significant increases were also recorded in Denmark, Sweden and Turkey.
Of the modest development aid increase registered in 2009, Africa was the main beneficiary. In 2009, net bilateral aid to Africa was US$ 28 billion, representing an increase of 3 percent over 2008. US$ 25 billion of this aid went to sub-Saharan Africa, an increase of 5.1 percent over 2008.
Regarding 2010, the OECD is optimistic that development aid flows will increase faster. In line with approved budgets and initiated programmes, OECD expects an increase in aid level worth US$ 6 billion in 2010 over 2009. Especially European countries have pledged to increase their aid significantly by the end of 2010.
But the OECD sees the largest shortfall relative to pledges in Europe. Africa was only likely to receive only about US$ 11 billion of the US$ 25 billion increase envisaged at the Gleneagles G8 summit, "due mainly to some European donors who give large shares of their official development assistance to Africa not meeting their ambitious targets," according to the OECD.
But some donor pledges have been fulfilled. The US pledged to double its aid to sub-Saharan Africa between 2004 and 2010 and already attained this goal in 2009. Several European donors have also surpassed their pledges, with Sweden, Norway and Luxembourg now spending more than 1 percent of their GDP on development aid, and Denmark, the Netherlands, Belgium, the UK, Finland, Ireland and Spain surpassing the EU target of 0.51 percent during 2010.
While the Gleneagles pledges to strongly beef up African aid ended up as empty words from around half of donors, others have lived up to their promises. The result for Africa however is far better than even optimists dared to hope one year ago, as the global crisis threatened to reduce aid levels drastically.
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