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Aid agencies begin to axe programs on back of Government cuts to foreign aid

By political correspondent Greg Jennett

Australian aid agencies have begun the first wave of cuts to overseas projects, as they start to feel the effects of the Government's budget decreases to foreign aid.

Plan Australia and World Vision have settled on more than a dozen projects, worth around $6.5 million between them, after negotiations with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade over the foreign aid cuts announced in last December's Mid-Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook.

The projects being axed are only the first instalment of what will be a $1 billion slice out of the foreign aid budget, affecting four continents.

"We took quite a deliberate process because we knew this was going to be a painful process", Plan Australia's program director Dave Husy said.

The agency is winding-up or reducing projects in Ethiopia to improve parenting and child health and an "empowerment" scheme for poorly educated rural families in Cambodia has also been targeted.

World Vision is cutting even deeper. The charity has identified $5.57 million in aid that will cease before the end of the financial year with more to come.

"The cuts are right across the whole area, so we don't have any choice, this is something that sadly has to happen," World Vision's Tim Costello said.

While successive governments have strategically decided to re-focus aid spending on the Asia-Pacific region, the latest cuts do not spare Australia's immediate neighbourhood.

"Our Pacific Timor-Leste office, working in Vanuatu, and Solomons and Papua New Guinea are deciding themselves which cuts to suck up," Mr Costello said.

World Vision estimates up to 1.31 million people will miss out on services affected by the cuts.

Projects include:

  • Senegal - Child Protection and Participation Project: $459,000
  • South Sudan - South Sudan Education Project: $966,000
  • Uganda - Urban Youth Livelihoods Project: $432,000
  • India - Child Protection Project: $700,000
  • India - Delhi HIV/Aid Mitigation Project phase two: $80,000
  • Jerusalem/West Bank/Gaza - North Gaza Community Resilience Project: $765,000
  • Pacific Timor-Leste - Clean water, gender-based violence eradication, health, education: $591,000
  • World Vision's total cuts are valued at $5,574,012.

"The worst job I have had is ringing our national directors and explaining that Australia has cut its aid by a billion dollars and its future projected growth by $11 billion, and in their minds (they say) 'but surely you are a rich nation, other nations aren't doing this'," Mr Costello said.

Last week Foreign Minister Julie Bishop completed a tour of Pacific nations including the Cook Islands, Kiribati and Tonga.

"I'm currently going through the process of considering our aid budget, because it is under pressure," Ms Bishop told leaders.

"But I have made it quite clear that the Pacific is our priority and I will do what I can to ensure the nations of the Pacific are spared the impact of the budget cuts brought about as a result of the debt and deficit that we inherited."

Aid agencies predict further cuts to their Pacific programs, including Vanuatu, PNG and Solomon Islands.


Australian Broadcasting Corporation