What if the United States were Sweden?

DEAN TREML/AFP/Getty Images Which country is the fairest and most humanitarian of all? According to Dara International, an organization based in Madrid, it’s Sweden. Dara has just released its first Humanitarian Response Index for 2007, which ranks 22 developed countries plus the European Commission in five categories: response to humanitarian needs; integration of relief with ...

597922_071129_sweden_05.jpg
597922_071129_sweden_05.jpg

DEAN TREML/AFP/Getty Images

Which country is the fairest and most humanitarian of all? According to Dara International, an organization based in Madrid, it's Sweden.

Dara has just released its first Humanitarian Response Index for 2007, which ranks 22 developed countries plus the European Commission in five categories: response to humanitarian needs; integration of relief with development; work with NGOs; implementation of international law; and promotion of accountability.

DEAN TREML/AFP/Getty Images

Which country is the fairest and most humanitarian of all? According to Dara International, an organization based in Madrid, it’s Sweden.

Dara has just released its first Humanitarian Response Index for 2007, which ranks 22 developed countries plus the European Commission in five categories: response to humanitarian needs; integration of relief with development; work with NGOs; implementation of international law; and promotion of accountability.

Some highlights:

  • Nordic countries top the list as Sweden, Norway, and Denmark capture the first, second, and third places, respectively
  • The United States is in the bottom half of the pack, coming in at No. 16, but still beats Japan by two spots
  • The French rank 19th, despite its good marks in supporting international humanitarian law, for failing to put their money where their mouths are

It’s worth noting that the Index rewards countries for devoting a greater percentage of its resources to foreign aid. So, although the United States gives more aid in absolute terms than anyone else, it gets low marks for what you might call “relative generosity.”

The funny thing is, most Americans seem to think their country is opening the spigots when it comes to foreign aid. According to statistics compiled by Columbia University professor and FP contributor Jeffrey Sachs, the typical American believes that 25 percent of the gross national income (GNI) is spent on foreign aid. In actuality, the OECD reports that the U.S. provided just 0.22 percent of its GNI in direct foreign aid in 2005, or $27.6 billion.

Sachs claims that poverty could be wiped off the map if the developed world spent 0.7 percent of its total GNI on official foreign aid, yet only five countries do so: Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands. If the United States followed their example, American taxpayers would shell out approximately $93.8 billion each year in foreign aid.

Ah, but don’t Americans give plenty of money through other channels? Not quite. Even if we include the estimated $33.6 billion that is contributed by private organizations each year, the U.S. would still fall $32.6 billion short of that $93.8 billion total.

Why does this matter? Because it’s astonishing what could be accomplished if the United States were more like Sweden—in other words, if it increased the U.S. foreign aid budget to 0.7 percent of GNI. For a mere $93.8 billion, the United States could keep all of its current funding commitments and also:  

  • Fully fund the $22.1 billion needed in 2008 to fight HIV/AIDS in low and middle-income countries, according to UNAIDS.
  • Supply the World Food Program with the expected $3.3 billion needed to pay for all of its project operations in 2008.
  • Treat the 425 million people infected with malaria every year for $2.40 a pop, for a total cost of $1.02 billion.
  • Single-handedly fund the $5.03 billion U.N. peacekeeping budget in 2006.

Even after doing all of that, we’d still be over a billion short… but who’s counting?

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