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Generosity, Politics, Economy and Disasters

Like most weekends, my last Saturday was spent talking to family and friends in Australia. Our conversations focused mainly on Halyan, a category 5 typhoon that hit the Philippines badly on November 2013 causing deaths, injuries and destructions. One of these friends was still saying goodbye to her guests when I called. They had a birthday party and instead of gifts, she requested cash donation for the typhoon victims. The A$1,000 she collected will be used to buy nails, lumber and other basic construction materials for three families whose houses were destroyed. When there’s a disaster, no effort or help is insignificant.

Overall, the global community has been kind to the Halyan victims and there are reports of many Governments that pledged to send cash: e.g. the USA US$20 plus massive military rescue operations; Australia A$10M; Japan A$10M; European Union about E13M; UK £6M – just to name a few. As well, there are international, national and local NGOs; banks; companies and individuals whose generosity hasn’t made headlines. On the contrary, China – the second largest economy in the world – has attracted world’s attention due to its original pledge of $200,000 (which was increased to $2M after global criticisms – i.e. “peanuts” compared to a Swedish furniture chain’s offer of $2.7M through its charitable foundation). Meanwhile the Canadian Government matches every dollar donated by its citizens to the Halyan victims.

Is giving aid or helping others (during disaster or not) culturally- and nationally-driven?

First, let’s look at the official development assistance figures from developed countries: Luxembourg (impressive 1% of its Gross National Income - GNI!), Sweden, Norway, Denmark and The Netherlands continue to exceed the United Nations target of 0.7% of GNI. In terms of volume, however, the largest donours are: USA, UK, Germany, France and Japan.

How about non-governmental foreign aid? The World Giving Index (WGI) – carried out by Charities Aid Foundation using Gallup data – measures a country’s generosity in terms of donating money (DM), volunteering time (VT) and helping a stranger (HS). Based on these criteria, the most generous countries are Australia, Ireland, Canada, New Zealand, United States, UK, The Netherlands and Canada.

The reasons for foreign aid are economic, political and historical. For instance, the largest cuts in official development assistance have been recorded in Spain, Italy, Greece and Portugal – countries which are most affected by the Euro and financial crises; whereas Australia (one of the few developed nations that had escaped 2 major recessions) has significantly increased its contribution. A big slice of France’s foreign aid budget goes to its former African colonies.

The media have suggested that China’s reluctance to give aid to the Halyan victims was due to its row with the Philippines over claims in the South China Sea (believed to have huge oil and gas reserves). In September 2012 President Aguino signed an Administrative Order (No. 29) mandating the use of “West Philippines Sea” to refer to parts within the Philippines exclusive economic zone.

Whilst individual and corporate philanthropy is still in its infancy in China, generosity is part of the Australian culture of a fair go, mateship and extending a helping hand. On the other hand, since some Governments of developed nations offer tax deductibility to contributions to charities and NGOs, I wonder if they would be this generous if it wasn’t the case.

So, do generous people form a generous nation? Or are citizens generous because it’s in their nation’s mentality demonstrated by their Government’s policies and actions?

(from my website Being Intelligent Gifted)

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