UN Official Backs Down: Rich Nations Not ‘Stingy’

UN Official Backs Down: Rich Nations Not ‘Stingy’ (Reuters)

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.

FILED UNDER: Afghanistan War, World Politics
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. jen says:

    I heard on the radio this morning that a local charity in Silver Spring has received donations of about $500,000 since Sunday. That’s rather spectacular.

  2. RE Gardner says:

    The stastics used by Mr. Engeland are from an OECD study, and are a good example of comparing apples and oranges, and fuels the Western European belief that they are superior to the USA. For example, the US cost of transporting assistance is often not included in the US totals either if military transport is used. Our accounting is simply different than Europes’ accounting. This metric also assumes that throwing money at a problem solves it.

    Then we have this initial emphasis on finding fault. America doesn’t give enough money, or there was no warning system in place. I don’t have a tornado warning system in my DC neighborhood either, and I don’t hear calls to install one despite a funnel cloud this past summer. And if there was one, most folks would go, “what is that noise?”

    Have you noticed the news initially concentrated on Western resorts? This is probably because these areas have communications infrastructure and are easy to get to – plus stories about Westerners get better ratings. (Racist Westerners?) You aren’t hearing much yet from Aceh (Indonesia) and the Andaman/Nicobar Islands (India) where the death tolls are much greater. These places were wiped out.

  3. LJD says:

    Yeah, Viva Le France: $135k donated.
    You would think they coud reinvest some of that oil-for-food money…

    Funny how the blame goes to the U.S. for visiting these places as tourists. We should ask why the local government didn’t invest any of the tourist dollars into infrastructure.

  4. kenny says:

    Those figures are out of date or misleading.

    The french have pledged 15 million euros
    (around 20 million $) and the germans are pledging 27 mullion dollars.

  5. LJD says:

    O.K., maybe they’re contributing $20M NOW, but they started at 100k Euros. The point is no one would ever THINK of criticizing the French. Instead they scold us for offering “only” $15M. (which is now $35M, by the way).

    Powell is probably right in saying U.S. is the leading contributor in the world. (Although the (dated)information I was able to find had Japan in the lead, i’m sure Iraq and Afghanistan have put us over the top).

    How can you consider a per capita, or percentage of GDP contribution amount without considering cost of living, debt, investments, NGO contributions, etc. etc. etc.? There are many other contributions by the U.S. that are not factored in. (for e.g., tourists supporting the economies of place like Indonesa)

    Has anyone asked what the contribution of Norway is? How much are we charging the U.N. for rent in NYC?

    Instead of Americans (yes, Americans, read the blogs) bitching about why our government is not doing more, they should dig deep on their own. NGOs will play a major role in the aid effort.

  6. kenny says:

    “Instead they scold us for offering “only” $15M. (which is now $35M, by the way).”

    The UN guy didn’t scold the US. Or call the US stingy.

    ” Powell is probably right in saying U.S. is the leading contributor in the world.”

    The US is the largest contributor,although powell was wrong in saying they were above any combination of countries. But a lot of that is a simple result of the US having a much
    larger population than the other developed countries.

    “How can you consider a per capita, or percentage of GDP contribution amount without considering cost of living, debt, investments, NGO contributions, etc. etc. etc.? There are many other contributions by the U.S. that are not factored in. (for e.g., tourists supporting the economies of place like Indonesa)”

    But those contributions aren’t factored in for the european countries either . You mention tourism to Indonesia but european tourists to indonesia outnumber US tourists by a 5:1 ratio. For thailand the ratio is around the same.

    “Has anyone asked what the contribution of Norway is?”

    Norway has pledged around 12 million dollars as “a
    preliminary contribution” which isn’t bad for a country of less than 5 million people.
    It’s the equivalent of the UK giving around 140 million dollars or the US giving 700 million.
    Though of course Norway in per capita terms is consistently the most generous nation with foreign aid.

    “How much are we charging the U.N. for rent in NYC?”

    How much is pumped into the NY economy by having thousands of foreign diplomats residing in the city?

  7. austin mls says:

    Well, you have to see it from their perspective.

    How else will UN bureaucrats become millionaires but by skimming off the top of the US donations?

  8. LJD says:

    Again, missing the point.
    U.S. tax dollars = 40% of all aid.
    We have come to the rescue whenever needed.
    We have been criticized for not doing enough.
    We do a lot. period.
    Our military expenditures are not exclusive of foreign “aid”, although measured on a different scale.
    The question should be why the dollars spent in tourism were not invested in better infrastructure. 3rd world corruption? Statistics show that increases in aid have not resulted in improvements in quality of life in 3rd world coutries.
    So, don’t blame the U.S.
    Booting the U.N. out of New York, would not hurt the economy. It would be soon replaced. Any community resilient enough to weather 9/11 can deal without foreign “diplomats” spending the money they stole from us anyway.

  9. Tom Kristiansen says:

    I don’t understand why americans are so outraged by this statement! He did not mention USA at all!! He could have said “Norway, Sweden, Denmark are stingy in their development ais” and most Scandinavians would probably have agreed!!

    Give Jan Egeland a break! His now famous answer to a direct question was based on a list of how much each wealthy nation gave to developing countries relative to the GNP. For the US this 0.13 percent of GNP does not include AIDS/HIV, decease- food-programmes etc. etc. and other factors. The real number in direct or indirect support is probably a lot higher. We all know that.

    As we all know US is the most generous wealthy nation as seen of the totals, however I doubt that US are the most relative generous wealthy nation even when all these numbers are taken into account. With relative I mean the real GNP as giver per capita.

    Tables and graphs for OECD Development Aid 2003:

    The simple fact is that all the wealthy nations are stingy. When I model a expensive resinkit I feel somewhat ashamed when I walk past the TV showing a hunger-disaster in Africa. Each day I probably do less work than most of the people in these countries and still I have money to play with my models. Even my model cost more than many peoples income for a whole year!! And I am not even rich. I am just a student!

    When we look at all the wealth we have compared to what the developing nations don’t have – we should feel ashamed!
    When I think of this I can’t avoid beeing annoyed over Powells irritation over Egelands statement. Egeland is so right in what he meant! In his statement he included Norway who only gives 0.92 percent of it GNP in aid. Not even a percent! Last year, Norway had a GNP worth NOK 260,000 per inhabitant, according to Statistics Norway. That is currently $43.000. With 0.92 percent that is mere $ 395.6 per person for the deveoping countries. ($1.780.200.000) And we still have no troubles spending more than $333.000.000 on christmaspresents for 4.500.000 people.. When I think of those hungry people in africa and in the rest of the world I cant help but fully agree on Jan Egelands statement!

    We – wealhy nations – are ALL stingy!

    There is a public agreement that fireworks should be limited to a minimum in Norway this new year. Because of greef and that millions of people need our fireworksmoney for water, food and shelter!

    best regards,
    Tom kristiansen