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Interview with Bruce Wilkinson - 2002-09-05


MR. BORGIDA
Joining us live here in our studio in Washington to talk about this summit, Bruce Wilkinson, of World Vision. It's a Christian organization that helps provide relief aid to developing nations.

Mr. Wilkinson, thanks for joining us today.

MR. WILKINSON
You're welcome, David.

MR. BORGIDA
You've been here on our set before, and I think you have some insight to share with our viewers. First, I guess probably the most controversial part of the summit now is all the criticism the United States is getting. Is it justified in your view?

MR. WILKINSON
Well, David, I think there is more the United States can be doing worldwide to eliminate or at least to reduce poverty. We still know that 1.2 billion people live in poverty. Also, about 2 billion people around the world don't have access to potable water. I think really doing the right thing is what we should step up to as a nation here. I know the United States is doing a lot.

In fact, I was just with Treasury Secretary O'Neill today, and they are planning on increasing the foreign aid budget by $5 billion over the next three years. Which is a significant step. This is absolutely a landmark event, for the U.S. to commit that much money to poverty elimination. Yet we still know what the world is like out there.

I lived in Africa for 17 years. I've seen poverty at its worst. And we can do more. So I would say the U.S. needs to move, needs to continue, and move along the continuum of providing more assistance.

MR. BORGIDA
This is essentially an environmental summit, but obviously how we do with the environment bears upon the food supply and that sort of thing. Is this directly related to the thing that you do for a living?

MR. WILKINSON
Well, it is very directly related because, as you say, the environment is key to sustaining our lives here on this planet and our food production and water resources. I mean, we already know that our water resources are definitely limited and we have to be very judicious in using those water resources. We can't be polluting the air. We just have to find ways to take the environmental agenda and make sure that it turns into the human agenda.

And that is, I think, the debate that is going on. Saying that the human agenda is we need basic health care, we need education, we need clean air, well, how do you get those basic, essential ingredients to everybody in the world? And again, there are going to be implications on the environment. So we see that the balance between the environment and human development is actually the key. And that's what these leaders are trying to sort out.

MR. BORGIDA
Mr. Wilkinson, one of the more contentious aspects of the entire food aid landscape is this notion now of genetically modified food. Why are some countries unwilling to accept that?

MR. WILKINSON
Well, I think there are various reasons for that. One, there is an economic pressure, because some nations are saying they will no longer import their food exports if they have genetically modified organisms in their countries, allowing them in.

There is also the whole educational piece. Do they know that these are safe? Do they know that these foods can be eaten without harm? In the United States we've been eating these for five, seven years, and there is no detrimental impact on us. It also provides incredible promise. The promise of genetically modified organisms, used judiciously, used wisely, can actually promote agricultural production. And that is one of the things we need to do, especially on the continent of Africa, or in other continents of the world.

MR. BORGIDA
Secretary Powell, at the summit, said he would link the performance of some countries and their governments to the amount of food aid the United States would be providing. This whole notion of linkage, is that something that those in your community support?

MR. WILKINSON
Well, I'm not sure Secretary Powell has gone to the extent of saying that food aid would be limited to countries that are performers. I think the United States has taken the position that we will feed people if they are in dire situations no matter where they are.

MR. BORGIDA
Let me give you his words: The money going only to countries that are governed, in his words, "fairly and wisely, with sound economic policies."

MR. WILKINSON
That's right. And it is money he is talking about here, not food aid. And that is correct. What the United States government is saying, we have the Millennium Challenge Account, which is this $5 billion that Secretary O'Neill was talking to us about today. And that $5 billion is going to be conditioned on good governance. It's going to be conditioned on policies that actually target poverty alleviation in countries, talking about children getting into school, primary school. But we're not just talking about children enrolled in school, we're talking about children getting a quality education.

MR. BORGIDA
I'm going to interrupt. Why wouldn't some critics of this say, good governance, why should the United States be deciding what is good governance and linking aid to that?

MR. WILKINSON
I don't think the United States is deciding who is going to provide good governance. They are saying we want our investment to have a return. And in an environment where there isn't good governance, where there isn't the rule of law, where contracts aren't respected, where the government really isn't interested in alleviating poverty, then the United States says we're not going to invest there.

Just like you and I, any investment we have in the stock market, we want to see that have a return on it, well, we are not going to invest our aid money in a country where it's not going to have a return. So I guess the U.S. is basically pushing a fairly strong message going out that we need to have countries that are serious about poverty alleviation, that they take it seriously, and we'll come alongside and we'll help them. So I think there is a positive message coming through, and it's a hard message. And that's why I think it's going down with difficulty right now.

MR. BORGIDA
That's our "out" question for this segment. Let's just look at the summit itself in Johannesburg. Was it, in your view, a success, 10 years after Rio?

MR. WILKINSON
Ten years after Rio or 20 years after Stockholm -- that was 1972 and Rio 1992 -- these world summits, I'm beginning to question the impact and effectiveness of these world summits. There need to be agreements on a global scale. I'm not sure these world summits are the best way to achieve that. So, again, I think it comes back to a question of doing what's right. Every one of us knows to do what's right in terms to help other people. Are we doing that? You can't legislate this. You can't get mega-global summits that are going to actually change people's behavior. You have to do that one person at a time. And that's what World Vision is about, helping people understand and change their behavior one person at a time.

MR. BORGIDA
One person at a time. Bruce Wilkinson, of World Vision, thanks so much for joining us today.

MR. WILKINSON
Thank you, David.

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