A Little Perspective on Foreign Aid

The UN has announced its target goal of $7 billion to fund its humanitarian projects in 2009. That seems an impressively large amount, until you consider the extent of need across the world and how little it would take for wealthy countries to make game-changing investments.

“Millions of people continue to struggle with long-running conflicts, natural disasters, the effects of climate change, and high food prices. The 2009 Appeal offers concrete help to these people in distress,” UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator John Holmes said, stressing that the $7 billion sought amounted to only a few cents for every $100 of national income in rich countries. [emphasis mine]

Responses to the “flash appeals” that the UN makes whenever particular humanitarian emergencies arise — such as the 2005 Indian Ocean tsunami — are generally overwhelming. Yet last year, donor countries only provided $4.7 billion out of the combined $7 billion total UN request, from both its original target and the flash appeals for catastrophes such as the cyclone in Myanmar and the earthquake in Pakistan.

For just a few cents off every $100, let’s hope we can get off to a better start in 2009.