BRUSSELS- Mali’s military coup threatens to undermine European Union aid efforts in Africa’s Sahel region, where drought and conflict have pushed millions of people to the brink of starvation, the bloc’s development chief said on Wednesday.
Since Malian soldiers grabbed power on March 22, Tuareg rebels seeking their own northern homeland have seized half of the country, and neighbouring nations have shut their borders with the previously stable West African state.
The European Union has already suspended its development aid operations in Mali, and if the political instability spreads it could hamper the 27-nation bloc’s wider efforts in one of the world’s poorest regions, EU Development Commissioner Adris Piebalgs said.
“Operations in the north of Mali are completely stopped. We can’t do anything because of the instability, and I don’t believe anyone currently has access to the people there,” Piebalgs said in an interview with Reuters.
“There is a risk that it could be the same in (other) parts of the Sahel, and we know that the instability in Mali could also spread to neighbouring countries.”
Piebalgs said that after suspending its development cooperation with Mali, the bloc was working on a “Plan B” to channel aid through United Nations agencies and non-governmental organisations.
“I hope they will have a political solution and constitutional order restored quickly, because I can’t imagine that the Plan B could be effective in the current situation,” he said.
Piebalgs contrasted the situation in the Sahel with that of Myanmar, where he said the European Union was looking to increase its development efforts if – as expected – the bloc’s foreign ministers decide to lift restrictions on aid later this month.
“We are very much encouraged by what is happening there, and … I think Myanmar could be a shining example for development support,” he said.
The EU recently announced an extra 150 million euros in aid for the country up to 2013, and said that if EU sanctions were lifted the bloc would begin work with the government to improve health, education and conditions in the tribal regions.
EU development aid spending fell fractionally in 2011 to 53 billion euros, equivalent to 0.42 percent of gross national income (GNI), according to figures released by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) on Wednesday.
This means the bloc remains the world’s biggest aid donor, providing more than half of global development funding.
Piebalgs attributed the drop in aid last year to austerity measures imposed by EU governments in response to the bloc’s debt crisis, but said it was not the right move.
“When you make austerity, it is an easy measure to cut development aid,” he said. “In Spain they cut development aid because they needed to balance the budget fast, and a country that was performing very well in support of development sacrificed a lot of its aid.”
Pressure on government budgets means the EU looks likely to miss its pledge to raise development aid to 0.7 percent of GNI by 2015, with only Sweden, Denmark, the Netherlands and Luxembourg currently meeting the target.
Piebalgs said the current debate in the Netherlands on development aid was a cause for concern, after the leader of the populist Freedom Party, Geert Wilders, called for the country’s aid budget to be slashed to 600 million euros from 4.6 billion currently as part of efforts to trim the national budget.
“This is the last thing we need, because basically you’re saying ‘I don’t care about others, I care about myself.”Reuters