A former UN staff member who has come home to head aid agency Christian World Service (CWS) says New Zealand must maintain levels of overseas aid now more than ever.
Pauline McKay has returned from 15 years in Geneva working for the UN’s World Health Organization (WHO) and other agencies to run Christchurch-based CWS, an aid agency working against poverty overseas.
First among Ms McKay’s concerns about the world’s poorest is the effect of the global financial crisis which is worsening the food crisis. The number of malnourished people reached nearly one billion at the end of last year.
“Although the financial crisis is hitting western countries, people living on less than $1 a day are suffering, with little hope of recovery. One of the pressing issues for international development is to ensure aid levels are maintained. The so-called economic crisis must not be the excuse for governments to cut back.”
In December, the government said it intended reviewing New Zealand’s $500 million overseas aid budget but foreign affairs minister Murray McCully gave an assurance the budget would not be cut.
Ms McKay’s impressive social justice career began earnestly in 1981 when she chaired anti-apartheid group Hart which opposed the divisive Springbok rugby tour. In the 1980s, she led the YWCA revamping the organisation to make it more relevant to women of today. She went on to manage Waitangi Consultancy which introduced Treaty of Waitangi principles to pakeha New Zealanders.
She went to Geneva in 1994 to manage the World YWCA centennial celebrations before working for the World Council of Churches organising its 1998 general assembly in Zimbabwe and working on its women’s desk. From there, she worked for the WHO organising conferences examining massive inequities in health research. Ninety percent of the world’s health research is on diseases affecting 10% of the world’s population.
Becoming national director of CWS is another pinnacle in her social justice career, she says. She describes CWS as a solid, progressive agency in that it works to end poverty, not just relieve poverty.
In 2006, a government report commended CWS’s long commitment to reducing poverty and excellent financial management.
Ms McKay is a lively and interesting speaker. She is available for interview and can provide expert comment on aid and emergency response, and international development.