Sweden tops EU development aid list

Sweden spends more per capita on development aid than all other EU countries, according to a new report which has slammed the failure of some member states for not doing enough to live up to spending goals.

Sweden allocated 1.12 percent of GDP to development aid in 2009, ahead of second-placed Luxembourg on 1.01 percent, new statistics from AidWatch and Concord Europe show.

The EU country which allocated the least to development aid was found to be Bulgaria, which spent 0.04 percent and Romania with 0.08 percent.

Concord – the European NGO Confederation for Relief and Development – is an umbrella organisation for aid organisations and one of its activities is to monitor member states’ adherence to the Millennium Development Goals.

In its new report, entitled “Penalty against Poverty: More and Better EU aid can score Millennium Development Goals”, Concorde argues that EU member states are “missing their official development aid targets and jeopardising global efforts to reach the Millennium Development Goals”.

The report, compiled annually by AidWatch, forecasts that Sweden is all set to meet its one percent of GDP goal on development aid spending for 2011 but warns that by shifting some aid spending to climate measures Sweden is in breach of the Kyoto Protocol.

AidWatch meanwhile directs criticism at several EU countries for not doing enough to meet the 0.56 percent target agreed in 2005.

“Penalty against Poverty finds that EU development aid in 2009 amounted to €49bn ($60 billion) or 0.42% of national income – €1 billion less than 2008 levels. Official estimates for 2010 put total EU aid at 0.46% of national income, far short of the 0.56% target for 2010 agreed by member states back in 2005.”

Concord writes that aid spending for 2010 is set to record a shortfall on this goal on €11bn in funding “with some of the EU’s biggest economies – Italy (€4.5bn), Germany (€2.6bn) and France (€800m) – amongst the worst offenders.”

While the organisation accepts that the worst fears of a global food crisis and economic backlash outlined in the 2009 report have not been realized, it projects that 63 million people will fall under the international poverty line – set by the World Bank at $1.25 per day at 2005 purchasing-power parity (PPP).

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Ericsson mobile app reconnects refugees

Swedish telecom firm Ericsson has launched a new mobile phone application which aims to reunite African families that have been torn apart by war or natural disaster.

Ericsson mobile app reconnects refugees
Co-founders David and Christopher Troensegaard Mikkelsen and refugee Mansour

The program is endorsed by the Clinton Global Initiative and was unveiled at the group’s annual meeting in New York.

“We are really showing how important mobile technology is,” said Hans Vestberg, President and CEO of Ericsson. “This is actually solving a very, very big challenge in the world.”

The Refugees United project, in partnership with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and Uganda-based mobile operator MTN, will help refugees use mobile phones to register themselves, search for loved ones and reconnect via an anonymous database.

The project started with a pilot deployment in northern Uganda at the beginning of September and is now being extended to other camps in eastern Africa, reported to be home to over five million people.

The information registered may be accessed by both refugees and NGOs that care for displaced people and the UNHCR welcome the Swedish firm’s commitment to assistance aid.

“The role of the private sector is increasingly important for humanitarian assistance. Lending their knowledge and expertise to support the refugee cause is crucial as many of these projects would otherwise be outside of our reach,” said António Guterres at UNHCR.

The pilot project utilized MTN’s network in Uganda with a reported 4,500 refugees already signed up to the database. Refugees are reconnected with loved ones using mobile text messaging (SMS) or mobile internet.

António Guterres explained that the choice of mobile phone technology was an obvious one.

“Today mobile phones are everywhere. Utilizing this readily available technology for a good cause to enable refugees to connect with and reach out to family members they have lost contact with is fundamental.”

Refugees United will stand for the creation, maintenance and updating of the database, while Ericsson will provide the mobile application, technology and systems integration to enable the application in mobile networks.