United Nations Undersecretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Jan Egeland quickly backpedaled from his assertion Monday that wealthy nations -- which pay his salary and fund his work -- are "stingy" when it comes to aiding the relief effort following Asia's deadly tsunami. The next day, Egeland claimed he was "misinterpreted." Later, he said that he wished he hadn't said what he said. No lie. In one press conference, Egeland, former state secretary in Norway's foreign ministry, managed to confirm the popular American belief that the more the U.S. government spends on foreign aid, the more international ingrates it creates.
As President Bush noted Wednesday, the United States contributed 40 percent of aid relief for the world's emergencies in 2004. That 40 percent makes Americans stingy?
It's called: You can't win.
To be fair, Egeland didn't single out the United States as "stingy." What he said was: "(I)t is remarkable that we have no country up to the 1 percent line of foreign assistance in general and we have, I think, three Scandinavians that have exceeded and Holland, the 0.7 line of gross national income for assistance."
The United Nations, you see, has decreed that developed countries should give 1 percent of their gross national income to foreign humanitarian aid.
Egeland added: "And if actually the foreign assistance of many countries now is 0.1 or 0.2 percent of their gross national income, I think that is stingy really. I don't think that is very generous." To make his point, Egeland explained that Americans and Europeans want to pay higher taxes: "Politicians do not understand their own populations because all the populations in the United States, in the European Union, in Norway, which is No. 1 (in foreign aid) in the world, want to give more as voters, as taxpayers. People say we should give what we give now or more. Politicians and pundits believe that they are really burdening the taxpayers too much, and the taxpayers want to give less. It's not true. They want to give more."
A few facts apply here. The United States spends about 0.14 percent of gross domestic product on foreign aid, according to the Paris-based Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. That figure, however, excludes generous private donations -- $33 billion in 2000 -- far more than the $10 billion in government aid.
U.S. Agency for International Development Administrator Andrew Natsios told the Associated Press that U.S. emergency relief rose to $24 billion in 2003. And Secretary of State Colin Powell expects U.S. aid for tsunami relief to eventually exceed $1 billion.