According to the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), the US and European Union have committed 40 times more money to rescuing the global financial crisis than they have to reducing poverty or addressing climate change.

But prior to the global financial crisis, significant headway was being made towards achieving the Millennium Development Goals, which includes a 2015 goal to reduce hunger worldwide.

Lesley-Anne Knight, secretary-general of Caritas International, says governments are using the financial collapse as a reason to fall behind on aid.

‘I think it’s quite easy for governments to use this global financial crisis as probably an excuse for failing to meet aid targets,’ she told ABC Radio’s Breakfast program.

‘I would say in many cases, including Australia, that excuse does not wash – particularly in countries where they have weathered the crisis very well.’

Banks before aid?

Ms Knight says it is appalling how governments have been able to commit such huge amounts of money to bail out banks at the expense of foreign aid.

‘Far smaller amounts [of aid] would reduce the poverty of so many countries and yet those commitments seem so difficult to reach,’ she said.

‘To be good international citizens, we need to be taking more of a lead to be putting aid commitments back on target.’

In a report detailing how the global economic crisis affected unemployment, the OECD singled out Australia, saying its fiscal response to the crisis has had a strong effect in cushioning a decline in jobs.

The report estimates that the impact of the Government’s stimulus package on jobs will be between 1.4 and 1.9 per cent in 2010.

The report also calculates that 15 million people have become jobless in major industrialised countries in the past 20 months, and predicts that unemployment rates for its member countries could rise again next year to 10 per cent.

‘No political will’

Ms Knight says if countries reached their 2015 targets, poverty and hunger would not be eliminated, but it would make an enormous difference.

To make matters worse, the global financial crisis has produced many millions more people who live in poverty due to shrinking economies and unemployment.

‘If just the 22-member countries of the OECD … committed to a 0.7 per cent target, that in itself would only be $280 billion – that would be the minimum to achieve those targets,’ Ms Knight said.

‘The political will simply isn’t there. We don’t put enough finances into eradicating poverty and we don’t have the right policies.’

Ms Knight says that it is members of the community who donate the most – not the Australian Government.

And she says donating to non-governmental organisations (NGOs) such as Caritas is the most effective way to give aid globally, due to the sanctions imposed on countries such as Zimbabwe.

‘There could be a complete and utter meltdown and disintegration of Zimbabwe had it not been for the aid provided through civil society and international NGOs,’ she said.

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