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Majority of Swiss back aid to developing world

The SDC supports projects in the Central Asian republic of Kyrgyzstan Keystone

Swiss development aid policy continues to enjoy widespread public approval despite the economic downturn and spending cuts, a survey has found.

At the same time the number of people in favour of slashing federal funds for development assistance has risen compared with five years ago.

The report, published on Thursday, was carried out for the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) and the Swiss Coalition of Development Organisations – a group of non-governmental organisations.

It polled 1,200 people across the country on their attitudes towards development policy.

The SDC said that the results were largely positive, with 53 per cent wanting to continue assistance at the same level and 22 per cent who thought it should be increased.

“Despite the general pressure to cut expenses, a clear majority of voters supports development assistance,” said the SDC in a statement.

Growing opposition

But the agency noted that 21 per cent of those questioned thought that development assistance should be reduced – an increase of four per cent compared with the last survey in 1999.

A comparison with previous statistics shows that both supporters and critics of development aid funding have gained ground over the past 20 years.

The number of those wanting to cut aid has risen continuously from four per cent in 1989 to 21 per cent in 2004.

Meanwhile, those who favour increasing aid has risen again, after a brief dip in the 1990s, and is two per cent higher than in 1999.

Claude Longchamp, from the Gfs institute which carried out the survey, said that many of those questioned were not aware of the SDC’s budget and at least two-thirds placed it at one or two billion higher than the current SFr1.7 billion ($1.42 billion).

Critics tended to belong to the political Right, he added.

Peter Niggli, director of the Swiss Coalition of Development Organisations, agreed that many people had a false understanding of the level of Swiss development aid. Only one in five had a realistic view of the situation, Niggli said.

UN and World Bank

The survey found the professionalism of the SDC’s work was widely accepted, but was also accompanied by concerns over the size of state-sponsored projects.

For the first time, cooperation with the United Nations, which Switzerland finally joined in 2002, met with a high degree of acceptance. But the Swiss showed less approval for cooperation with the World Bank.

Economics Minister Joseph Deiss said on Wednesday that Switzerland will support the controversial United States nomination of Paul Wolfowitz to take over as head of the World Bank. The nomination has been criticised by some European politicians and NGOs.

Private organisations and NGOs generally enjoyed a better reputation for aid work than the government agency, being seen as competent and uncomplicated.

Big business also managed to improve its image after the last survey. Swiss firms did badly in 1999 but have regained in consumer confidence thanks to their efforts in fair and environmentally friendly trade.

swissinfo with agencies

Main findings 2004:
53% in favour of continuing aid at same level.
22% in favour of increasing aid (20% in 1999).
21% in favour of cutting aid (17% in 1999).

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR

SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR