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Anti-poverty aid lagging, U.N. says

September 05, 2008|Richard Boudreaux | Times Staff Writer

UNITED NATIONS — Development aid from the United States and other wealthy countries has declined since the middle of this decade, jeopardizing the ambitious U.N. goal they had embraced for reducing poverty by 2015, according to a report issued Thursday.

The report card on the Millennium Development Goals, the United Nations' 15-year global anti-poverty plan, cites improvement in easing the debt burdens of the world's neediest countries, but says pledges to help them with stepped-up aid and lower trade barriers were faltering.

It says development aid from the United States, the largest benefactor, fell 10% last year to $21.7 billion. Japan's dropped 30% and the European Union's nearly 6%. The report says the 22 donor countries committed to the plan must increase their development aid by $18 billion a year between now and 2010 to meet targets they accepted three years ago.

"This report sounds a strong alarm," Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in releasing the study by a U.N. task force. "We are running out of time."

Ban has called a one-day summit of world leaders here Sept. 25 to prod wealthy countries to do more.

American officials said President Bush has remained committed to the U.N. plan.

U.S. development aid has doubled since 2002 and was boosted by a five-year, $48-billion package for Africa that Bush signed this summer, said Carolyn Vadino, a deputy spokeswoman for the U.S. mission here.

Even so, the United States gives a smaller share of its national income, 16 cents for every $100, than any other member of the donor group, the report says. The average for the group, which includes Japan, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and 17 European countries, is 28 cents. The U.N. target is to raise development aid to 70 cents per $100 of rich country income by 2015.

Although China and India have become significant benefactors in recent years, the report does not quantify their assistance.

The United Nations called in 2000 for cutting in half the number of people in the developing world who live on less than $1 a day. It set seven other targets for impoverished nations: enrolling every child in primary school, promoting gender equality, reducing child mortality, improving maternal health, stemming epidemics, protecting the environment, and reducing debt and tariffs.

The World Bank last week adjusted the recognized dollar-a-day yardstick for measuring extreme global poverty to $1.25 and said 1.4 billion people, one-fourth of the developing world, are living on less.

The U.N. report finds some encouraging signs:

Of the 41 most heavily indebted countries, 33 have received debt relief. Access to medicines to fight AIDS and malaria has improved, thanks in part to a Bush administration initiative. More than three-fourths of the developing world's population have access to cellphones. And aid comes with fewer obligations to buy goods from donor nations.

However, 52 nations still spend more on debt service than on public health, the report says.

After growing steadily in the first half of this decade, it says, development aid dropped by about 13%, to $104 billion last year.

Rob Vos, the report's lead author, said aid started to lag after a major debt relief effort in 2005. "There's no reason to be pessimistic about meeting the development goals, but you have to regain focus and attention and priority," he said.


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