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What Will Canada Do About the 0.7% Target as Growth in Subsaharan Africa Slows?

March 18, 2009

Over lunch recently a friend asked, “what do you think of when you hear ‘.7’?” “Percent,” I replied. “As in 0.7% GDP to give to developing countries.” My friend acknowledged that this was what he was going for, but that he had spent the last several weeks asking other Canadians the very same question and that few had responded with the same answer. This friend is obsessed with foreign aid commitments to Africa, and most specifically the general public’s ignorance of the promises that we have made and often broken. I thought him a bit overly dramatic at the time, bringing up such a weighty topic over meals and at bars, but I think that he has a point. Although Canada and other “developed” nations have continually committed foreign aid to the “developing world,” these commitments rarely turn into either hard cash or any real tangible changes within the world’s most impoverished nations.

The often lauded but sometimes laughable (and, it seems, largely forgotten) 0.7% promise was first proposed in 1970, and later reaffirmed at the 1992 United Nationals Conference on Environment and Development in Rio De Janeiro, and then again in 2002 at the UN International Conference on Financing for Development. This promise is also central to the Millennium Development Goals. So far, only five countries have reached this target, with six others pledging to do so by 2015. Canada does not make either of these lists.

In the face of the global financial crisis—caused, notably, by financial mismanagement within the developed world—Africa and other areas of the developing world will again be hardest hit. Already minimal foreign aid will drop in light of decreased government revenues and the global tightening of belts. It is estimated that hundreds of more people will dip under the poverty line and that millions more will face food insecurity.

The BBC this week reported that the IMF predicts that growth in sub-Saharan Africa will slow to about 3% in 2009, half the growth rate it previously thought. 15 of the 21 countries which the IMF judges most vulnerable to the crisis are in Africa.

African leaders met with the G20 earlier this week to ask for continued aid throughout the financial crisis, with a specific request for 7% of any global bailout package. Yet again 7% has been asked, and I can’t help but fear that yet again 7% will be forgotten.

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