Tsunami disaster should force Ottawa to boost all foreign aid:
The world can't forget about others in need, says anti-poverty activist
Description: The overwhelmingly generous response by Canadians to appeals for south Asian tsunami relief should force the federal government to finally boost its feeble foreign aid budget, said Michael Byers, Academic Director of the Liu Institute.
Date: 09 January 2005
Author: Byline: Bruce Constantineau
Source: The Vancouver Sun
VANCOUVER - The overwhelmingly generous response by Canadians to appeals for south Asian tsunami relief should force the federal government to finally boost its feeble foreign aid budget, a global political expert said Friday.
"This incredible response provides a lesson to government that Canadians actually do care about overseas development systems," Michael Byers, academic director of the Liu Institute for Global Issues, said during a panel discussion at the University of B.C. "We want to spend more of our money to help the world's poor.
What a perfect opportunity to seize the moment and make a statement that Canada will finally pony up and pay what the world has agreed to pay."
The world's richest nations have agreed their foreign aid budgets should equal 0.7 per cent of their national GDP, but very few countries have followed through on the commitment.
Oxfam reported last year that Canada contributed less than 0.3 per cent of its GDP (about $3.2 billion) to foreign aid in 2003, down from 0.45 per cent in 1992.
Byers said the generosity of Canadians has clearly been stirred by images of the human tragedy in south Asia, but he feels the generosity is there all the time, not just when natural disasters strike.
Stephen Owen, federal minister of western economic diversification, said he's confident the country's foreign aid budget will rise to 0.7 per cent of GDP over the next few years.
"I think that, out of this disaster, we may find some energy to accelerate that even further," he said. "Certainly there's lots of public demand for it."
End Legislated Poverty co-founder Jean Swanson said in an interview that massive global fundraising efforts for south Asian tsunami victims are fabulous, but the world can't forget about the 30,000 people who die every day from preventable causes.
"It's atrocious that more than 150,000 people died in the tsunami but since then, more than 200,000 have died from preventable diseases like malaria and measles and AIDS," she said in an interview. "That goes on every day -- 30,000 people a day."
Swanson said she hopes the genuine, heartfelt response to the tsunami tragedy puts pressure on governments everywhere to increase domestic and foreign aid for impoverished people.
She said charity from private citizens is great and it's desperately needed during times like these, but charity alone won't fix our "broken system" because only government can do that.
"The CBC raised something like $160,000 for food banks before Christmas and that's fantastic," she said. "But if they had a fundraiser like that every day of the year, it would raise less than a tenth of what the provincial government has cut from welfare."
Fraser Institute executive director Michael Walker said boosting government foreign aid programs to poor countries will do little to solve their problems.
"Our foreign aid is more like foreign abuse," he said. "There's often a disconnect between the interests of the donor and the interests of the recipient."
The Oxfam report said 35 per cent of Canada's foreign aid in 2003 was "conditional," with the receiving country obligated to buy goods and services from Canada. Walker also noted some food donations to certain countries can destroy incentives for local agriculture production.
"The best thing we can do for poorer countries is to break down our trade barriers to their products coming into Canada," he said. "They have a comparative advantage in producing them and we should be importing them."
Burnaby South Secondary School students, meanwhile, raised about $18,000 for tsunami relief after completing a two-day "toonie drive" Friday and hope to reach $20,000 by the time they present a cheque to the Canadian Red Cross Monday.
Principal Gina Niccoli-Moen said the students set a goal of $10,000.
"I made an announcement [about the fundraiser] at 11:30 Wednesday morning and kids started donating money right away -- we raised $300 at lunch hour, a day before it officially started," she said. "That's all anyone was talking about in the school."
Niccoli-Moen said Burnaby South, one of B.C.'s largest high schools with more than 2,300 students, is a multi-cultural school with a lot of students from outside Canada.
"Many have faced some very difficult times and faced their own human tragedies," she said. "So for them, human tragedy is real . . . I am incredibly proud of our students and feel warmed that there are so many good people in the world and we have so many of them at our school."
Burnaby Buddhist monk Phien Nguyen said his 50-member congregation has sold its four-acre temple property in Mission for $500,000 and will donate the funds to the Canadian Red Cross by Jan. 11, the final date for the federal government to provide matching funds.
He said the temple was sold to a Chinese Tibetan Buddhist nun, who will provide a $300,000 payment by Jan. 10 and pay the rest over the next two years. Nguyen said members of his congregation will borrow $4,000 each to supply the additional $200,000 for the donation before Jan. 11.
He said realtors involved in the transaction waived their commissions so all the money could be used for disaster relief.
Nguyen said the congregation originally planned to sell the Mission property and use the money to build a new temple in Burnaby, but put those plans on hold after the tsunami tragedy. The group will continue to worship in a large house it owns in south Burnaby.
The Salvation Army announced it will bring out its red Christmas kettles Saturday for a major fundraiser in communities throughout B.C. The kettles normally are used for the organization's annual Christmas appeal but are brought out for extraordinary events, like the 2003 B.C. forest fire disaster.
The Salvation Army has raised about $900,000 from the Canadian public so far and has committed another $1 million of its own money for tsunami relief.
Vancouver radio station JACK FM will hold a one-day "request-a-thon" Monday to raise funds for relief efforts. Listeners can make a minimum $25 donation to request songs they want to hear that day.