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VATICAN LETTER Jan-7-2005 (880 words) Backgrounder. xxxi

International Scrooges? Some feel wealthy countries too miserly

By Carol Glatz
Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Not even Bob Cratchit accused his miserly employer, Ebenezer Scrooge, of being a tightwad. But this Christmas season, a high-ranking U.N. official publicly complained of chronic penny-pinching by the world's wealthiest countries.

Just days after a deadly earthquake and subsequent tsunamis left tens of thousands of people dead or missing and obliterated countless villages in a dozen countries along the Indian Ocean, U.N. emergency coordinator Jan Egeland had this to say about how parsimonious "the haves" have become.

"It is beyond me why we are so stingy. Really. Christmas time should remind many Western countries at least, how rich we have become," he told reporters at the end of December.

While Egeland praised the generous outpouring of support for the tsunami victims in Asia and East Africa, he later clarified his criticism by saying the Western world has failed and continues to fail miserably in helping the world's poor when there are no emergencies, an assessment echoed by some church officials.

Cardinal Renato Martino, head of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, called the huge flow of aid money after the tsunami disaster "a positive sign." But he criticized the usual lack of attention paid to the "over 1 billion human beings whose lives are constantly marked by extreme need."

Perhaps the tsunamis will help people realize that "humanitarian aid should not just come when there is an emergency," he said Jan. 2 in an interview with the Italian newspaper, Corriere della Sera.

Cardinal Martino said that if rich countries had been funding development projects in the countries hit by the tsunamis then these poorer areas would have had "over triple the resources available, and they could have even taken advantage of having an alarm system warning of atypical waves" and setting up other emergency response measures.

In just two weeks, world governments allocated more than $4 billion to fund immediate humanitarian relief and long-term rebuilding of the areas affected by the Dec. 26 tsunamis. But after five years wealthy nations have made little progress in earmarking a small portion of their yearly wealth toward pulling the world's people out of poverty.

In 2000, rich countries committed themselves to the millennium development goals aimed at cutting the number of the world's extreme poor by half by 2015. Funding to reach those goals was to come from wealthy countries spending 0.7 percent of their gross national income for aid in developing countries.

According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, out of 22 wealthy countries, in 2002 and 2003, only Norway, Sweden, the Netherlands, Luxembourg and Denmark spent that percentage of foreign aid.

The United States was at the bottom of that list, spending the least in foreign aid -- just 0.15 percent of its gross national income in 2003.

It was this lack of long-term and consistent giving toward development that left Egeland disappointed, and the Vatican's representative to U.N. and humanitarian organizations based in Geneva dismayed.

Archbishop Silvano Tomasi, the representative, said that "the effort is there to push up the percentage" that countries give toward foreign development, but added, "I don't think the millennium goals will be reached."

While "we never before had so much wealth and resources in the world to reach the needs of people," the problem, he said, lies in nations' spending priorities, which are "sometimes off the target."

Dedicating a large portion of a nation's revenue toward arms rather than putting education first is not just wrong, "it is self-defeating," the archbishop said.

A value-based education goes more toward "creating a mentality of managing public life" concerned with quality of life and the common good than does military spending, he said.

"We need a different sense of security that will enlarge one's sense of comfort beyond self-protection," said Archbishop Tomasi.

This new sense of security must include "the well-being of all people, that people can survive and live together and have decent work," he said.

Archbishop Tomasi's predecessor, Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin, Ireland, said foreign aid must also aim to make poorer nations less dependent on richer nations.

Developing countries need to be given "genuine ownership of their resources" so ideally they can fund their own programs toward "human development and education," he said.

There is no question the shock and scale of destruction caused by a natural disaster can jolt people from apathy to action in helping those in need.

But Archbishops Martin and Tomasi said they hope this time, the global concern shown toward the victims of the Dec. 26 tsunamis won't quickly peter out and revert to neglect.

"It's important that after this disaster" fades from the limelight, "the people there not be forgotten," said Archbishop Martin.

Archbishop Tomasi said he thinks the overwhelming generosity shown by so many governments and individuals "is probably something new."

"It shows for the first time a globalized sense of responsibility," he said.

He said he hoped "this experience of wide solidarity" would tell government leaders "that the people are not opposed to being responsive to the needs of other countries."

People responded "not just because it was necessary, but because it is good for everyone. If that message sinks in, then some good will come of this tragedy," he said.


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