Giving Till it Heals

In my new book The End of Poverty , I show how extreme poverty can be ended by 2025, but only if the rich world follows through on its promise to help the poorest countries. In order to thrive, and to foster the private-sector investment needed for long-term growth, an economy requires functioning health and education systems, investments in soil nutrients and water management, and basic infrastructure such as electricity and motorized transport. Yet the poorest countries, even well governed ones, lack the resources to finance these investments.

Lack of adequate foreign assistance is one of the greatest disgraces on our planet, and the United States has been the biggest laggard of all. It is urgent that the US wake up to global realities, and that it follow through on its commitments.

The most famous single promise by the rich countries has been to provide aid to the poorest countries equal to at least 0.7% of their GNP. The commitment began 44 years ago, in 1961, when the United Nations General Assembly adopted the objective that foreign assistance should increase significantly, “so as to reach as soon as possible approximately 1% of the combined national incomes of the economically advanced countries.” At the time, foreign assistance was about 0.5% of rich-country income.

Despite the promises, aid continued to decline. By the early 1990’s, official development assistance was still around 0.33% of donor GNP, and by the early 2000’s, it had declined to around 0.22% of GNP. Now it is roughly 0.25% of GNP. But the long-term decline in the ratio of aid to GNP did not stop the rich world from promising time and again to reach 0.7% of GNP, including at the Rio Earth Summit in 1992 and the Copenhagen Summit on Social Development in 1995.