Caritas Australia disappointed by government budget cuts

Sydney, Australia, Feb 3, 2014 / 12:03 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Even as the Australian government has reduced funding for foreign aid, the nation's branch of Caritas intends to continue its mission of aiding the world's poor.

On Jan. 18, the Australian government announced cuts of $650 million (US $572 million) to its aid program for the 2013-14 fiscal year, which affects funding for Caritas Australia and other non-governmental organizations.

“Despite this unforeseen, mid-year change to our Partnership Agreement with the Government, we remain committed to promote peace, justice and dignity for the poorest of the poor,” Paul O'Callaghan, CEO of Caritas Australia, said in a Jan. 22 release.

“For half a century, Caritas Australia has walked in solidarity with the world’s most vulnerable women, men and children, and we are resolute in our mission to honour the dignity of the people we serve.”

He added that “we urge the Government to re-establish a sound basis for effective long-term partnership through its budget planning for the next four years.”

Several non-profit aid agencies have criticized the government's policy, noting that it will have significant impacts on vulnerable groups who are served by projects funded through the Australian government.

Caritas said the budget cuts “reduce funding for programs in Africa, the Middle East, Latin America, and South and West Asia which help to lift communities out of poverty.”

O'Callaghan noted that the cuts have strained some of the agency’s existing commitments but that the agency will work to ensure that the cuts will be felt least by the most vulnerable populations its serves.

He said the 40 year partnership between Caritas and the Australian government has has positively affected millions of impoverished persons – including more than 1.1 million in the last year.

“In Bangladesh, the percentage of families that can afford three meals a day has risen from 36 percent in 2005 to 100 percent in 2012. And closer to home in Oecusse, Timor Leste, Caritas Australia’s food and security program has reduced these communities ‘hunger months’ from four months per year to just one month.”

O'Callaghan added, however, that “success of this kind hinges on our ability to develop relationships of mutual respect with local communities. But to do this effectively, we need funding predictability from Government.”

Caritas Australia is the Australian bishops' aid agency, providing assistance in Africa, Asia, Latin America, Oceania, and for indigenous Australians. It aims to make the poor self-sufficient so that they will no longer need aid.

Programs supported by Caritas Australia include health care, providing clean water; literacy; community leadership; microfinance; and housing support for refugees and the displaced.

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