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Who's stingy?

Byline: The Register-Guard

The Bush administration took offense at the suggestion that the United States has been "stingy" in its response to the Asian tsunami, and for good reason. The United States government pledged $35 million in immediate assistance, more than any other country, and that's not counting private donations to organizations such as the Red Cross. Yet it's clear that the United States could do more - not just for humanitarian reasons, but out of self-interest.

It's fair to say that the U.S. government is giving all it can. The $35 million aid package will exhaust the U.S. Agency for International Development's emergency relief fund. Further expenditures will have to be approved by Congress. Such approval is all but assured; Secretary of State Colin Powell said the $35 million is "just a start" and that aid to tsunami victims will eventually exceed $1 billion.

Among the world's nations, few stepped up quickly in the wake of Sunday's disaster. The United States' pledge was the biggest, followed closely by nearly $30 million from Japan. Other donors ranging from China to Great Britain came forward with relatively small initial pledges. This led Jan Egeland, the United Nations' coordinator of emergency relief, to complain that "We were more generous when we were less rich, many of the rich countries ... it is beyond me, why we are so stingy."

Egeland says his comments were not aimed at any single country, but a White House spokesman defended American aid levels, saying that "We outmatch the contributions of other nations combined."

That's not the case. The U.S. is the world's largest donor, with a $12.9 billion aid budget in 2002, but other nations' combined foreign assistance programs greatly exceed the American effort.

What's more, the United States is far down the list of countries in terms of the percentage of national income that goes to foreign aid. According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, Denmark is the leader, with 0.96 percent of its income devoted to official development assistance in 2002. The United States ranks 22nd at 0.12 percent.

Foreign aid is not charity, though it often has charitable purposes. The United States uses aid programs as investments in political stability, public health and economic development. The top recipients of American aid are Egypt, Russia, Israel and Pakistan - all countries in which the U.S. has varied interests. The same can be said of countries affected by Sunday's tsunami. Investing in disaster relief, disease prevention and recovery will help stabilize the entire Indian Ocean region, benefitting the United States.

Any suggestion that the world's largest tsunami relief donor is stingy would be unfair. Yet the United States can be accused of being short-sighted. It costs less, and helps more people, to provide preventive aid or disaster assistance than it does to deal with the political, economic and military consequences of letting misery fester. Helping people in need is a basic human obligation - and it's also an instrument of an effective foreign policy.
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Title Annotation:Editorials; U.S. generous, but only by some measures
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Article Type:Editorial
Date:Dec 30, 2004
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