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One-off funding not enough for the aid budget

  • 20 October 2020
Working in aid and development for over 20 years, you wait with bated breath for what each federal budget will bring. The past four years have seen a series of cuts. This year seems like a good news story, with a much-needed one-off increase of $304.7 million to Timor-Leste and the Pacific for COVID-19 response and recovery.

At Caritas Australia, there were cheers from the Program teams of these regions for an injection of funds that they know all too well are desperately needed. This funding is vital to support our closest neighbours to avoid the worst social and economic costs of COVID-19 and I, along with many of my colleagues, welcome it.

But, there was a trade-off. In fact, this Budget is a missed opportunity. It was a chance for the government to do something radical, to make real and defined impacts. Instead, we’ve increased funding for some regions, but at the cost of some of the most marginalised populations in the world, who have experienced years of discrimination, poverty and displacement.

There have been cuts in aid to the Middle East, to Africa and even to Bangladesh, home of the world’s largest refugee camp in Cox’s Bazaar. Just read the news and you know that these regions are desperate, these regions are in crisis. We see through our work the impact of COVID-19 on these most vulnerable people. For millions, there are no safety nets — no social welfare, healthcare or even for many, running water. When households that rely on informal cash-in-hand labour lose income for the day, they don’t eat. And it is often the poorest of the poor who live in crowded conditions without access to healthcare, clean water and sanitation who are the most at risk to COVID-19.

Working with local dioceses and organisations in Timor-Leste and the Pacific region, there is no doubt that support during the pandemic is sorely needed in this region. Despite comparatively low rates of infection from the virus, the social and economic consequences are still dire. Loss of income has pushed large numbers of people into poverty, and there is risk of an increase in preventable diseases like tuberculosis, HIV/AIDS and malaria due to a lack of resources during the pandemic. Women and girls are particularly affected, as domestic violence rates intensify across the region. Thankfully, this year’s budget has committed to continue support for first responders assisting Pacific women experiencing violence.