U.N.-Appointed Panel Calls for a Tax to Pay for Crises

Somini Sengupta, New York Times, January 17, 2016

What if the next time you buy World Cup tickets or summon an Uber ride, you found yourself paying a few cents extra to pay for winter blankets for Syrian refugees or clean water for those displaced in Darfur, Sudan?

That idea–a small tax on high-volume goods and services–is among those proposed by an independent panel appointed by the United Nations to figure out how to pay for the staggering humanitarian crises facing the world today. The report, released Sunday, plainly acknowledges the limits of traditional charity on the part of the world’s rich and calls for a sea change in thinking about how to pay for lifesaving aid in what the Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon, called “the age of the megacrises.”

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The world needs $40 billion each year to meet the needs of those affected by wars and natural disasters and already faces a shortfall of $15 billion for this year. Those needs are expected to grow; as the report stated bluntly, “Never before has generosity been so insufficient.” Already, food aid has been repeatedly slashed for refugees fleeing conflict in places like Somalia and Syria.

The panel–which includes representatives of donor governments, corporations and civil society–takes pains to point out that despite the growing needs, what the world needs to pony up for emergency relief is a fraction of the $78 trillion global economy. It also argues that in the end, while “helping people in distress is morally right,” providing aid is also in the interest of donor countries.

“Today’s massive scale of instability and its capacity to cross borders, vividly demonstrated by the refugee crisis in Europe, makes humanitarian aid a global public good that requires an appropriate fund-raising model,” the report says.

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