€900m overseas aid budget may have to be cut, warns minister
Michael Brennan Political Correspondent
JUNIOR Minister Peter Power has warned that he cannot guarantee the €900m overseas aid budget will not be cut.
But he said a promise to provide 0.07pc of Gross National Product (GNP) in aid -- a pledge broken once already -- could still be met by 2012 without providing extra funds.
"Our budget is tied to GNP so it depends on the prevailing economic factors. While you may be reaching your percentage targets, that may not mean an increase in aid in real terms," he said.
Mr Power, Minister of State for Overseas Development, was speaking at the launch yesterday of Irish Aid's annual report.
The Government has already cut €45m this year from the overseas aid budget but is still providing an average of €200 per taxpayer to support projects in dozens of countries around the world.
Mr Power said the money was being used in a "real and tangible way" to reduce the worst effects of poverty.
"We've got to keep this whole matter in perspective. We have a fabulous story to tell -- Irish taxpayers' money is lifting people out of poverty and helping to deal with humanitarian crises around the world," he said.
Last year, around €140m out of the aid budget was spent on responding to humanitarian crises in more than 45 countries. This included €15m to help the victims of the conflict in Darfur, where more than 1.6 million have fled their homes. Around 38,000 refugees in the town of Goz Beida in neighbouring Chad were given vital aid as part of this funding.
Another €9m was spent to support a public works programme in Ethiopia, which provided enough wages to keep around eight million people from starving.
Irish Aid's €4.8m funding for anti-HIV/AIDS programmes in Lesotho -- which has the third highest infection rate in the world -- has doubled the numbers on anti-retroviral programmes, funded four new health centres, and led to the employment of 100 nurses.
Other African countries receiving significant funding included Sierra Leone (€11m), Liberia (€9m) and Zimbabwe (€9m) which now has the lowest life expectancy -- 35 years -- in the world under the regime of President Robert Mugabe.
In Timor-Leste, Irish Aid helped to revive a traditional cultural and sports festival which had not been held for years.
Irish Aid funded a "Celtic Tiger study" in Vietnam to help the country develop its economy, while it spent €7.5m providing aid to Palestinian refugees in the West Bank and Gaza.
Goal, Concern and Trocaire were among 41 charities who shared in €41m of Irish Aid funding, while Irish missionaries were given €16m in funding.