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US Defends Aid Policies, Demands Reforms

The top U.S. aid official has told the United Nations Washington is more than doubling development assistance at a time when other major donors are cutting back. VOA's Peter Heinlein has details of a high-level U.N. conference on financing global development.

Secretary-General Kofi Annan opened the two-day gathering on a note of optimism. Calling this a period of extraordinary promise, Mr. Annan told the ministers of finance and development from more than 100 countries they could be on the brink of making poverty history.

"Many years of hard work have brought us to the threshold of a breakthrough in our pursuit of development and human dignity," Mr. Annan says.

Mr. Annan urged wealthy nations to reward good governance among developing countries with more aid, including a doubling of official development assistance, or ODA, to Africa.

But the top aid official from the United States, the largest single donor, took issue with Mr. Annan's prescription. In a sharply-worded speech, U.S. Agency for International Development Administrator Andrew Natsios warned against reducing the fight against poverty to a check-writing exercise simply to meet the UN Millennium goals for cutting poverty in half by the year 20-15.

"We recognize that the volumes of aid and other development resources must increase significantly," Mr. Natsios says. "But if we are to continue the recent increases in ODA and assure that the goals of the Millennium Declaration are achieved, we must also ensure aid effectiveness, sustainability and results."

Andrew Natsios
Mr. Natsios noted that the United States has boosted its aid budget beyond the 50 percent increase President Bush promised at the 2002 Monterey Conference. He said U.S. assistance has nearly doubled since 2000, and now stands at 25 percent of all aid given by developed countries.

He predicted this year's total would reach $24 billion, or a 140 percent increase, in five years.

But Mr. Natsios cautioned that the amounts of aid given usually have little effect on a country's development. In many cases, he said, corruption and weak legal protections are the main factors in preventing economic growth.

"There is no point in debating whether ODA should be $68-billion or $100 billion or $195 billion when the most basic policies for generating wealth are not in place," Mr. Natsios says.

Scores of speakers at the conference joined Secretary-General Annan in calling on wealthy countries to pledge point-seven percent of national income for development assistance. Many implicitly criticized the United States, which falls far short of the target.

But in comments to reporters, Mr. Natsios rejected those criticisms, saying Washington had increased its budget the most among major donors in recent years, while other countries, including Germany, Japan and the Netherlands, have cut theirs.

He said meeting the point-seven target would mean more than quadrupling the aid budget to $91-billion a year. He added "We couldn't spend that much even if we wanted to."