Scribblings Resurrection

Tsunami aid numbers game

Wednesday, 5 January 2005

The press in the UK and elsewhere has been making much of the amount of money donated by governments to the disaster relief following the Boxing Day tsunami in the Indian Ocean. There has been the usual bleating about governments not giving enough though just how much is enough I wouldn’t like to hazard a guess. I thought I’d try to compare the amount pledged by various governments to their countrys’ Gross Domestic Product (GDP)1.

My figures are based on a list of donations on the BBC news website and a list of the 2003 GDPs of the world’s countries on Wikipedia which is itself taken from the World Bank’s world development indicators database. I think the BBC source is being updated as new figures arrive; at the time of writing it was last changed at 19:30 GMT today.

The list below2 represents the money pledged by governments expressed as a percentage of the country’s GDP.

Chart of country's tsunami aid as percentage of GDP

Qatar 0.14314
Norway 0.08214
Sweden 0.02660
Japan 0.01157
Australia 0.00887
S.Korea 0.00826
Canada 0.00791
Netherlands 0.00665
Italy 0.00648
UK 0.00535
China 0.00426
France 0.00378
USA 0.00322
Mozambique 0.00231
Germany 0.00112

The list takes no account of the amount of money donated by the public or that from other sources. Germany is currently reported to be considering increasing its aid to around $600m which would move it to somewhere between Norway and Sweden in my list. The UK government has said it will match the donations made by the British public which presently stands at about twice the government’s contribution. I imagine the situation is the same in other countries. The list also takes no account of other sorts of aid being offered such as the substantial military aid being offered by the United States, Australia and others and the medical aid from numerous places.

I don’t know what all this means. It possibly means nothing at all beyond helping to provide a sense of proportion to the figures being bandied around as boasts and brickbats.

1 I’m not really trying to make any political point from this exercise. I think that at this stage that would be rather cheap. You are free to draw your own conclusions. When I started playing around with the figures, two or three days ago, Mozambique, one of the world’s poorest countries, was second or third from the top of the list. I guess by now the richer countries, with their larger surpluses, have started to get their act together.

Comparisons like this, although undoubtedly better than raw figures, will not be telling anything like the full story. Is a person, in the UK, who earns £30,000 a year really only six times richer than someone who earns only �5000? In a sense they are infinitely richer: someone earning �5000 a year will spend all of it on essentials leaving them with nothing; the person on �30000 a year will have some left over; anything divided by nothing is infinite (or should that be transfinite?).

2 My apologies for the somewhat crude presentation: the software which runs this weblog cannot currently handle tables.

Posted 5 January 2005, 00:35 GMT

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