UN Official Backs Down: Rich Nations Not ‘Stingy’
The international response to a catastrophic tsunami in Asia has been quick and generous, a senior U.N. official said on Tuesday, playing down his earlier comments that wealthy nations were stingy. U.N. Emergency Relief Coordinator Jan Egeland rowed back from statements he made on Monday after an annoyed Secretary of State Colin Powell said Washington was “the greatest contributor to international relief efforts in the world.” “The United States is not stingy,” Powell told CNN’s “American Morning” program.
Egeland, a Norwegian, pleaded at a Monday news conference for individuals and governments around the world to respond generously to the humanitarian disaster created by the tsunami that struck a broad swath of southern Asia on Sunday. Asked about the response of rich nations to such crises, he said: “It is beyond me why are we so stingy, really.” “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,” he said. The United Nations urged rich nations a quarter of a century ago to give away 0.7 percent of their gross domestic product every year in the form of development aid. To date, however, just a handful of European nations, most of them in Scandinavia, actually meet that goal.
The United States, the world’s largest economy, contributes about 0.13 a year of its GDP to development aid. But that figure excludes aid to Iraq and Afghanistan as well as food aid, where the United States is the world’s largest donor. “We are busting our butts to help and comments like that don’t reflect what we are doing,” said a State Department official, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Egeland told reporters on Tuesday: “I’ve been misinterpreted when I yesterday said that I believed that rich countries in general can be more generous.” “It has nothing to do with any particular country or the response to this emergency. We are in early days and the response has so far been overwhelmingly positive,” he said. “The international assistance that has come and been pledged from the United States, from Europe and from countries in the region has also been very generous,” Egeland added.
Indeed, the United States is far and away the biggest contributor to the UN and most of the world’s relief programs. And, of course, private assistance from U.S. churches and secular charities is not counted in those figures. Americans contribute much more of their money to charity than our European counterparts, partly because we’re not taxed at the confiscatory rates that prevail on the Continent and partly because of our religious traditions, which encourage charity.
Update (1112): “Captain Ed” Morrissey has some facts and figures on this issue.