NGOs shocked by ‘deadly’ development aid cutbacks

Federal President Heinz Fischer has claimed he is “deeply hurt” by the government’s decision to slash its development aid spending from next year.However Fischer, who attended the 2011 budget speech by People’s Party (ÖVP) Finance Minister Josef Pröll in the federal parliament in Vienna today (Tues), also stressed that he had understanding for the planned austerity measures as a whole. “The government is in a difficult position,” the former Social Democratic (SPÖ) science minister said.Non-government organisations (NGOs) and charities have found more harsh words for plans to reduce development aid contributions by a third until 2014. The Austrian Development Agency (ADA) has been informed by the SPÖ-ÖVP coalition that it will have to do with more than 80 million Euros less during the upcoming years.Caritas Austria official Christoph Petrik-Schweifer said: “The cuts are unfair, socially unbalanced and deadly.”Referring to the cutbacks of around 80 million Euros, he said: “The nutrition situation of at least 900,000 people could be substantially secured. Around 3,000 fewer children would die of malnutrition.”Andrea Wagner-Hager of CARE Austria said: “The measures will not only be literally deadly for people in southern countries, but also harm Austria’s reputation in the world.”She added: “Women and children in the poorest countries in the world will have to swallow this bitter pill.”Wagner-Hager said permanently repeated promises that the goal was to raise the amount of contributions would “help no one”. She said: “The government said already 40 years ago that its aim was to spend 0.7 per cent of the gross domestic product (GDP) on international development aid. Austria still has not even reached half this share.”Austria spent around 823 million Euros of state money on development in 2009, which is just 0.3 per cent of its GDP. The European Union (EU) made 0.51 per cent of the GDP the official target for its 27 members this year.The Austrian Red Cross and 30 other Austrian organisations appealed to Herman Van Rompuy, the head of the European Council President, for help in an open letter published last weekend.Greens leader Eva Glawischnig said she had understanding for the various street marches held in protest against the development aid cutbacks and other measures across Austria today and during the past few weeks. Glawischnig said the decision to spend less on international development aid was a “disaster”.She also hit out at the government for failing to increase subsidies for universities and schools.The coalition is trying to press the budget deficit, which currently ranges around 4.5 per cent of the GDP, below three per cent of the GDP by 2013.Other announced measures are higher mineral oil taxes, a reduction of family subsidies, a so-called bank solidarity levy and a flight ticket tax. More than seven in 10 Austrians consider the budget as unfair, according to a poll by researchers OGM.