Greek nongovernmental organizations are increasingly relying on private donations as the country continues to grapple with a financial crisis that is already leaving many aid groups to shut down and abandon missions abroad — a painful reality to a once vibrant civil society.
The latest aid statistics published by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development show Greek official development assistance taking a further dip this year.
The country’s aid budget has been falling since 2008, around the start of the European debt crisis. Devex spoke to a few NGOs, none of which are optimistic about the trend changing anytime soon.
Greek official development assistance for 2013, as per European Commission projections, stands at 0.13 percent of the country’s gross national income — the most off-track among European countries that committed to spending 0.7 percent of their GNI on aid by 2015.
But where will that money come from, or if it will ever come through, is a wonder for Medecins du Monde Greece chief Nikitas Kanakis.
“Nowadays, nothing happens at all. There is absolute silence,” he said.
Many aid organizations relying on Greek aid have been suffering. Many programs remain unpaid; some NGOs face illiquidity problems.
In August 2012, the Greek government froze funding for NGOs, as part of the tough austerity measures the country has been taking amid intense pressure from European neighbors.
Fotis Vlachos, chairman of Greek NGO PLATEAU, however told Devex that this policy was lifted a month ago.
This lack of funding has pushed Greek aid groups to diversify and look for alternative sources of funding, such as through the private sector and donations from Greek diaspora. Some have also begun to boost internal capacity, transparency and accountability, to boost their chances of securing donor funds.
Others have closed shop. Vlachos said the number of registered organizations to the international development cooperation department under the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has significantly dropped in recent years.
“We had a number of about 560 registered entities … but a recent call for re-registration proved that not more than 108 out of these 560 still exist or are functioning,” he said.
Some NGOs have changed priorities, like Medecins du Monde, whose focus is now domestic, providing food aid and donated medicines to cash-strapped families in the country. Kanakis said the organization no longer has the capacity to support missions abroad.
Another hurdle is that other potential sources of funding, such as the European Union, seem to be granting more aid to big consortiums and large organizations, a reality that Kanakis said hurts small groups.
“Small NGOs … are totally excluded from funding,” he said.
Vlachos, a member of the Hellenic Platform for Development, which currently represents 12 Greek NGOs, and CONCORD, a European confederation of NGOs, explained that many of surviving organizations manage through volunteer work.
PLATEAU’s staff is composed of one part-time officer, two interns and four volunteers, all of which participate in meetings, developing group project designs and advocacy work with “very limited funds.”
But for many, the drop in Greek ODA didn’t come as a surprise. Many in Greece, Kanakis suggested, would not even hear of the crises in other countries.
“At this point, all discussions around this topic have stopped, and if someone dares to refer to it, he is frowned upon by society,” he said.
The overall picture in Greece is shifting. Once a country providing humanitarian aid overseas, Greece is now attracting attention from international aid organizations.
While the future remains bleak, soon the international community may just be talking about a country facing a humanitarian crisis itself, Kanakis said — if not already.
A representative for Hellenic Aid, the Greek department in-charge of international development cooperation, was not available for comment.
Christina Vasilaki contributed reporting.
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