Dodging aid obligations

Gabriela Bucher
Tuesday, Jan 24, 2023

The OECD recently echoed Oxfam’s calls for aid to Ukraine to be a top-up. This came after several donor countries started pulling funds from their aid budgets to free up money for Ukraine.

Sweden was one. In March, it announced the redirection of nearly one-fifth of its aid budget to fund the reception of refugees from Ukraine. The government has since backtracked (though about $430m is still being redirected to refugee reception) because of strong public pressure from civil society and the fact it overestimated the number of refugees.

In the United Kingdom, we saw similar reports that billions in foreign aid will not leave the island. The UK now plans to spend more of its international development budget at home to house refugees, mainly from Ukraine, than it will abroad. This comes after its development budget had already been slashed.

Inflating aid budgets is a worry, too. Countries counted excess COVID-19 vaccine doses as aid, even though they were not bought or intended for poorer countries. They were unwanted leftovers, available only because rich countries had bought more than they needed, leaving poorer countries short of supplies. Aid reached a historic high of $179bn in 2021 but 80 per cent of this increase came from surplus COVID-19 vaccine donations.

By mid-January, OECD donor countries will decide if they will again count donations of excess COVID-19 vaccines and support to refugees as aid. They should not be allowed to rewrite the rulebook.

Since 2014, money for humanitarian emergencies has stagnated at 10 per cent of the total aid budget. Yet, humanitarian needs have reached record highs, with the pandemic, climate breakdown and the cost-of-living crisis continuing to wreak havoc. Despite this, pledges remain underfunded. In 2022, donor countries funded just 34 per cent of the United Nations’ Global Appeal – leaving a funding shortfall of $37bn. This is less than half of the amount they pledged for Ukraine.

The poorest are being hit the hardest by the cost-of-living crisis. The reason is simple: they spend a larger share of their income on food. People in drought-ravaged East Africa, for example, spend as much as 60 per cent of their income on food. So, when food inflation reaches a staggering 44 per cent in a country like Ethiopia – nearly five times the global average – food becomes unaffordable. People do not eat.

In Lebanon, food is now 15 times more expensive than in October 2019. More than 80 per cent of the population is struggling to afford food and medicine. The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has warned that increased costs of wheat and fuel mean that the same money buys much less assistance. Aid donors must adjust for this inflation. According to the OECD, donors should increase their aid budgets by 5 per cent (about $9bn) to make up for inflation.

Excerpted: ‘The scramble to help Ukraine shows the need for more, better aid’. Courtesy: