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Social Issues
How Much Do Americans Really Know About U.S. Foreign Aid? How Much Do You Know About What Canada Spe
October 23, 2012
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Two weeks to go now until the U.S. presidential election. Two weeks for Barack Obama and Mitt Romney to win over those undecided American voters.

Of course, Monday night was the their final debate - this one focusing on foreign policy.

They talked about the usual suspects - China, Israel, Iran, Syria, Libya, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Islamic extremists.

But in a debate about foreign policy, there wasn't a lot said about foreign aid - particularly with respect to Africa.

At one point, Mitt Romney argued that U.S. aid should be targeted toward allies of the United States and countries who are moving toward democracy.

"The right course for us is to make sure that we go after... these jihadists, but also help the Muslim world... We should key our foreign aid, our direct foreign investment, and that of our friends, we should coordinate it to make sure that we -- we push back and give them more economic development."

But beyond that, there wasn't a whole lot more.

How much America should spend? Should it reduce foreign aid or spend more? Where should the money go? Is it a time for a rethink on how the U.S. hands out foreign aid?

So, why didn't any of that come up? Well, perhaps foreign aid isn't a priority for many Americans right now - not with the U.S. economy still struggling.

And as many analysts have noted, foreign policy won't decide the election. It's all about the economy.

That doesn't mean foreign aid doesn't matter. It matters a lot.

But how much do Americans really know about it or how much their government spends?

The global organization ONE (which was co-founded by Bono) spent 48 hours asking everyday Americans what they thought about U.S. Foreign Aid.

Here's the video. It's worth a look.

And see if you know the answers to the questions. It's amazing how knowledge can change perceptions.

As for Canada, in the 2009/10 fiscal year, the federal government set aside $5 billion for foreign aid.

That works out to 0.34 per cent of our Gross National income.

In 1969, former Prime Minister Lester Pearson headed a UN commission, which called for governments to spend 0.7 per cent on foreign aid.

More than 40 years later, Canada has never hit that target. The closest we came was 0.5 per cent in 1986-87 under Prime Minister Brian Mulroney.

how-much-do-americans-really-know-about-us-foreign-aid-how-much-do-you-know-about-what-Canada-spends-on-foreign-aid-feature2.jpg In the 90s, foreign aid was cut sharply under Prime Minister Jean Chretien, dropping to 0.25 per cent by 2000.

As of 2010, Canada ranked 14th in the world well behind countries such as Norway - who was first with aid at 1.1 per cent of its GNI.

Two years ago, Prime Minister Stephen Harper promised to freeze aid at $5 billion a year for five years.

But now, the government is planning to cut it by $800 million over the next three years, as it tries to reduce the federal deficit.

However, some of Canada's allies are planning to increase foreign aid. British Prime Minister David Cameron is proposing a 37 per cent increase by 2015.

In Australia, the government is planning a similar increase from $4.8 billion a year to $8 or $9 billion by 2015.

"These allies realize that aid is a crucial investment in a more stable world," says Mark Fried, policy co-ordinator at Oxfam Canada.

how-much-do-americans-really-know-about-us-foreign-aid-how-much-do-you-know-about-what-Canada-spends-on-foreign-aid-feature3.jpg As he puts it, "investing now in the resilience and prosperity of poor communities will not only save lives, but cost us less in the medium term by helping reduce the risk of conflict, disease and despair."

Charles Kenny is a fellow at the Center for Global Development and the New America Foundation.

In this piece, he argues that if the U.S. were to spend $150 billion a year on foreign aid, it would make a huge difference in the developing world.

He says $150 billion would be enough to ensure that no one in the world lived in absolute poverty.

It would also cover much of the cost of anti-retroviral drugs for Africans with HIV/AIDS for the next 30 years. And it could help Africa adapt to the impact of climate change.

Trouble is, the U.S. doesn't spend anywhere near $150 billion a year - it's more like $30 billion, according to a 2010 report by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development.

That's about 0.2 per cent of U.S. gross domestic product.

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