Fighting poverty in places like Ethiopia has been an uphill battle for the Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace. Photo by Michael Swan

Canada lagging behind in aid to world’s poor

  • May 26, 2017

The global economy is picking up steam, but higher global growth numbers aren’t changing the outlook at Canada’s Catholic development agency.

The latest United Nations World Economic Situation and Prospectus forecasts 2.7 per cent growth in global gross product in 2017 and another 2.9 per cent uptick in 2018 — good numbers compared to just 2.3 per cent in 2016. But those numbers don’t mean much in the slums and impoverished villages of the world’s 48 least developed countries, and Canada still falls short in its aid commitment, said Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace advocacy and research officer Elana Wright.

“Economic recovery in South America is emerging more slowly than anticipated and gross domestic product (GDP) per capita is declining or stagnant in several parts of Africa,” according to the UN’s report on the global economy.

“Nearly 35 per cent of the population in LDCs (Least Developed Countries) may remain in extreme poverty by 2030,” said a summary of the United Nations report.

“A growing gap between rich and poor translates into a need for more aid even for advancing, middle-income countries, such as Brazil,” Wright said.

“Even though Brazil is a middle income country, it is in fact a country of the very rich and the very poor,” she said. “It still needs assistance from us — at least the poorest of the poor (need it). That is, of course, our mandate — to work with the most vulnerable, the most excluded, the poorest of the poor.”

Development and Peace is looking ahead to publication of the federal government’s International Assistance Review. Postponed several times, this mandated look at Canada’s contributions to global development has been promised for early in the summer.

Through the winter, Development and Peace has been encouraging its members to get in touch with their Members of Parliament to remind them how far Canada needs to go to meet its own goals to help the poor world-wide. Canada’s total international assistance in 2014-15 amounted to $5.8 billion, according to Global Affairs Canada.

“The official development assistance budget has been frozen this year,” said Wright. “Canada is falling short of its commitments to contribute to the fulfillment of the Sustainable Development Goals. In 2015, the official development assistance of Canada was only 0.28 per cent of its GNI (Gross National Income).”

At the urging of Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson in the 1960s, the United Nations set the bar for developed nations’ contributions to foreign aid at 0.7 per cent of GNI. Canada has never reached its own standard and currently ranks 13th out of 23 donor countries. In 1995 we stood in sixth place.

This poor Canadian performance comes against the backdrop of the United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals agreed to by Canada and 192 other nations in 2015. The 17 “Global Goals”include 169 measurable targets, including the total elimination of hunger and the end of extreme poverty by 2030.

“Getting Canada to pony up its fair share comes down to making sure politicians in Ottawa know the state of the world’s poor matters to Canadians,” said Wright. “We invite our Canadian members to meet with their Members of Parliament and advocate for more generous ODA (Overseas Development Assistance). We are requesting a concrete strategy and timeframe for our ODA to reach 0.7 per cent of Canada’s GNI.”

Stable, competent, democratic governance has been the key to bringing people and countries up out of poverty.

In Brazil, a period of competent, stable, democratic governance beginning in 2002 under President Lula da Silva and then President Dilma Rousseff brought more than 40 million Brazilians up out of poverty and into the middle class. As the country has descended into never-ending scandal and an unelected government under President Michel Temer, that progress has stopped.

“Development and Peace is working for stronger governance, for more democratic participation of citizens, for community control over natural resources,” said Wright. “These are all things that would prevent more humanitarian crises in the future, or at least would reduce the incredible tragedies that occur when a country is not prepared to look after its citizens.”

The key to Development and Peace’s strategy for more democracy is its partnerships with local organizations that work directly with the poor, said Wright.

“Many of those organizations are pastoral-led movements,”she said. “The Church is very involved with them. They are demanding justice.”

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