Canberra: Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s government has decided to cease all bilateral aid to Pakistan, which includes support for successful programmes helping poor women and girls, as funds for development assistance were diverted to the Pacific, a media report said.
Australia has a 70-year history of providing aid to Pakistan but will end all government to government development assistance in 2020-21, The Sydney Morning Herald reported on Monday citing the latest aid programme performance report on Pakistan as saying.
“Funding in Australia’s overall aid program has been redirected to support new initiatives in our immediate Pacific region,” the performance report said.
“This has reduced bilateral aid to Pakistan from AU$39.2 million in 2018-19 to AU$19 million in 2019-20 and funding for bilateral programmes will fully cease in 2020-21.”
A key objective of Australia’s aid to Pakistan has been assisting women and girls with a focus on education, increased access to quality reproductive health and gender-based anti-violence services.
But Australia’s overall foreign aid budget has been slashed by 27 per cent in real terms since 2013 and now makes up just 0.82 per cent of federal government spending, an all-time low.
Despite those cuts, the Morrison government has pledged an Australian “step-up” in the Pacific and aid spending in that region was lifted to a record AU$1.4 billion in 2019-20.
Last financial year Australia’s aid to Pakistan provided food and cash transfers to over two million poor people affected by drought and internal displacement, The Sydney Morning Herald said.
It supported a further 1.2 million people in disadvantaged regions, helping them to gain access to justice, public services and business grants.
While bilateral aid will end, Pakistan will continue to receive some Australian humanitarian and “regional” funding such as scholarships for study in Australia. This will total approximately $13.5 million in 2020-21.
A spokesman for the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade said Australia “will continue to work with Pakistan on areas of shared interest, including through trade and investment, community links, defence cooperation, human rights and gender equality, and regional security.”
Besides Pakistan, Nepal has also been hit by cuts to Australia’s aid. Bilateral assistance to the Himalayan nation will be 42 per cent lower in 2019-20 than the previous year.