What does last night’s budget mean for Australian aid?

07 Oct 20

Last night, the government announced that Australia will increase economic support for COVID-19 response and recovery in the Pacific region by $304.7 million over the next two years. The Pacific and Timor-Leste will receive the most support from this budget.

Caritas Australia welcomes this news, as we have seen the devastating impacts of COVID-19 on many of the vulnerable communities we work with. Read our CEO, Kirsty Robertson’s response to the budget here.

Why is it important to support other countries during COVID-19?

COVID-19 affects everybody, but lower-income countries don’t have the same healthcare and testing infrastructure that we enjoy in Australia, which makes dealing with the virus even more challenging. It is especially hard to cope with the impacts of the virus without clean water or the ability to distance physically from people who may be infected.

In addition, the economic consequences of lockdowns for COVID-19 are likely to push an additional 533 million people into poverty in 2020, marking the first increase in global poverty rates in over twenty years. People who rely on cash in hand work are unable to earn an income when their towns and cities are in lockdown, and Caritas Australia and partners have already stepped in to support particularly vulnerable communities. For example, in Bangladesh earlier this year households involved in the Sustainable Food Security and Livelihood Program II received emergency cash distributions from Caritas Australia and Caritas Bangladesh after many households in the program lost their income due to lockdowns.

Lower-income countries will also face more challenges in recovering from the crisis, which is likely to be a slow process.

What does this mean for countries in Africa or the Middle East?

This one-off increase in support to the Pacific and Timor-Leste is welcomed by Caritas Australia and many other aid agencies after several years of overall reductions to the aid budget, but it has come at the cost of aid to South and West Asia, Africa and the Middle East.

There are displaced and vulnerable communities in Afghanistan and Bangladesh who may not receive the support they really need, and may soon face reduced access to key needs such as healthcare, clean water, education and livelihood skills development. It will be challenging for international development and aid agencies to recover the progress lost to the pandemic in education, sanitation and healthcare for communities who are already vulnerable.