U.N. needs more Korean contributions

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U.N. needs more Korean contributions

When will South Korea make a significant contribution to global development efforts?

One year ago, at the United Nations, all member States adopted the Sustainable Development Goals to wipe out infectious diseases, illiteracy and extreme poverty from the planet by 2030. The Korean Government said it would do its share to fund these goals.

The intentions were no doubt sincere, and they have since then been reaffirmed on many occasions. The heart of the government was probably in the right place, but not its wallet.

Indeed, one of the key decisions of the SDGs was to eliminate AIDS, TB and Malaria from the surface of the earth by 2030 and consequently, a meeting was held on September 16 in Montreal to raise the funding required for the task. But Korea’s decision to actually pledge $3.75 million when countries of a roughly similar size were pledging ten times, or nearly 100 times more, is truly disconcerting.

Consider the facts: Australia, whose official development assistance is only 50 percent bigger than Korea, gave $165 million, and Canada, whose official development assistance is twice that of Korea, pledged close to $800 million, to name but two examples. Actually, the only countries to pledge as low as South Korea were Benin, Côte d’Ivoire, Namibia, Senegal, South Africa, Togo and Zimbabwe.

If this were an isolated event, it would just be saddening. The problem is that this month’s event is only confirming a truly troubling pattern that was also seen in previous instances: last year, when the international community gathered to raise the funds required to provide every child with access to basic education, again South Korea was represented by a low-level official, and pledged a single-digit amount, while other donor countries were providing more than ten times as much each.

Earlier that year, when it came time to fund immunization for all the world’s children, the same pattern emerged.

If this was coming from a country with no budget for Official Development Assistance (ODA), it would be comprehensible. But South Korea is one of the few commendable examples of both past and planned increases to the ODA budget.

Why is South Korea then not joining the club of developed nations? When will Korea shake away its Peter Pan syndrome, its fear to grow to its full potential as a donor on the multilateral scene?

The Korean pledge was made for only the first year of the three-year cycle. There is still time to announce pledges for years 2 and 3 that are at least ten times bigger than what was announced, and to let the world know that Korea is now fully contributing to fulfilling the agenda supported by all world leaders.

The Global Fund plans to save 8 million lives over the next three years if it can be fully funded. It can speak with authority because it has already saved 17 million lives so far since it became operational in 2002. What better way is there to invest the planned increases in Korean development assistance?
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