As US get stingy on foreign aid, Germany calls on others to step up

G20 Labor Ministers Family Photo on May 18, 2017 in Bad Neuenahr, Germany. (Credit: OECD/flickr/G20 Germany)

Germany wants to start a new global emergency relief fund just as the U.S. announces its intention to leave the United Nation’s Green Climate Fund, the latest move by the Trump Administration to diminish America’s role in foreign aid.

The announcements come roughly a week apart and show how diverging priorities for some of the world’s largest economies may reshape the humanitarian system.

German Development Minister Gerd Mueller re-upped his call for a 10 billion Euro emergency fund, over the weekend. He cited the rising hunger rates in East Africa as an example. It is a part of a broader hunger emergency where more than 20 million people are at risk of dying from starvation in Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan and Yemen. Nearly $5 billion is needed to avert famine.

“We need to accomplish this as a world community,” Mueller said in an interview with the German newspaper Passauer Neue Presse, according to Reuters.

The fund is for emergencies and would be replenished by countries to keep money available for unplanned events. It is in part a response to pleas by the U.N. and aid groups for donor countries to provide money immediately to prevent harm from the potential outbreaks of famine in these struggling regions.

Today, only about 38 percent of the money the UN says is needed to pay for getting food, water and other supplies to current crises is available, meaning many people are not being helped. That figure does not include the billions more needed to provide non-food assistance to communities affected by drought and conflict.

Muller’s proposal comes ahead of a meeting of the Group of 20 industrialized countries where Germany serves as president and host. It hopes to make the issues facing Africa a high priority for leaders during the meetings. Germany spent $17.8 billion on official development assistance in 2015, a record high for the country and a 26 percent increase from the previous year.

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It stands in contrast with U.S. President Donald Trump’s announcement to withdraw from the Paris climate change agreement. The decision follows through on a campaign pledge to exit the agreement.

“I was elected to represent the citizens of Pittsburgh, not Paris,” Trump said, in an allusion to his campaign slogan ‘America First.’

Trump also announced recently that the U.S. will cease making payments to the U.N.’s Green Climate Fund. His predecessor Barack Obama contributed $1 billion to the fund, which aims to mobilize $100 billion a year to assist developing countries in mitigating the impacts of climate change by 2020.

The Green Climate Fund was set up as a way to help those countries likely to be most affected by, and least able to respond to deal, the effects of climate change. Leaders from wealthy nations agreed that developing countries are both vulnerable and lack sufficient resources to deal with the problem. The fund was established by the world’s leading economies in recognition that they are responsible for the majority of the greenhouse gas emissions in the world.

It is the latest direct action by the administration to reduce the presence of the U.S. in global affairs. One of Trump’s first actions after taking office was to bring the Mexico City policy back into force and expand the number of programs affected. Millions of U.S. aid for global health will now not be available to organizations or health programs that offer abortion counseling and services.

The White House then issued two executive orders limiting the resettlement of refugees and lowered the cap on the number of asylum seekers allowed in to the U.S.. Rumors later surfaced that the administration is seeking ways to cut down contributions to the United Nations. Weeks later, the administration unveiled a budget for 2018 that included reducing overall foreign aid.

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The $31.08 billion that the U.S. spent on official development assistance is nearly twice as much as the next leading donor, the U.K. Trump will need the backing of Congress to enact spending cuts to foreign aid, something that some say is unlikely given the longstanding bipartisan support for the budget.

But many remain concerned that the cuts will go through, as other nations appear to follow Trump’s isolationist lead.

In the U.K., government officials continue to defend the foreign aid budget in the face of public and media protests. It comes at the same time that the country is undergoing a divorce from the European Union, Brexit. British voters were swayed by right-wing politicians who support the kind of country-first policies that helped Trump win in the U.S. Pressure is increasing on U.K. leaders in the wake of a less-than-stellar performance by the Conservative government in last week’s election.

In Australia, the government led by Malcom Turnbull has continued to shrink its commitment to aid.

These moves by some governments to reduce foreign aid has created uncertainty about how the world’s biggest donor countries will respond to ongoing and future humanitarian crises. Germany’s fund proposal is to ensure that money is available, regardless of who is in power at the time disaster strikes.

“Merely reacting to events is not enough,” Muller said in a statement. “When aid is actually disbursed, it is often too late. We must empower the United Nations to take a proactive approach to crises.”

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Tom Murphy

Tom Murphy is a New Hampshire-based reporter for Humanosphere. Before joining Humanosphere, Tom founded and edited the aid blog A View From the Cave. His work has appeared in Foreign Policy, the Huffington Post, the Guardian, GlobalPost and Christian Science Monitor. He tweets at @viewfromthecave. Contact him at tmurphy[at]humanosphere.org.