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OXFAM Calls on G20 Summit to Remember Poor

A major summit on the global economic crisis opens Saturday here in Washington. World leaders and representatives of the G20 will attend. The G20 consists of the leading developed and emerging economies, as well as the European Union. The summit will look at reforms and policies that could ease the crisis.

On the eve of the summit, the humanitarian agency OXFAM is calling on world leaders to remember the poor, who it says are carrying most of the burden. Gawain Kripke, policy director for OXFAM-America, told VOA English to Africa Service reporter Joe De Capua that leaders must address three major challenges in the short term.

"First and most urgently is the fact that tens of millions of people around the world are facing urgent needs because of the economic downturn and also because of a year of very high food prices and very high energy prices. As many as 100 million people have been thrust into poverty just in the last year. And so there's a need to respond, both with emergency assistance and long-term assistance for development," he says.

He adds, "A second challenge is to make sure that new institutions are put into place to regulate financial flows and make sure that the investments and transactions are better regulated overall.… And lastly, many of the institutions we have, including the UN and IMF, aren't quite fit to the task. And so we need to think of refurbishing our existing institutions so that we have a proper way to regulate and manage problems like this."

In a statement Kripke writes, "There is a risk that recessions in rich countries will lead politicians to take the short-sighted approach of cutting aid."

He tells VOA "any economic downturn usually means less revenues and more expenses for governments. And that's true in both rich countries and poor countries. There'll be pressure in the coming years to cut government budgets in developed countries and also in developing countries. And we're very concerned that the poorest countries, who get significant assistance from rich countries, will be the first thing cut in budgets in countries like the United States and Europe. And we're calling on governments to make a commitment that they won't make budget cuts that affect the poorest people first. And that they'll try and hold the line on support for poverty-oriented aid."

The OXFAM official says another challenge facing rich nations is keeping the promises made at recent G8 meetings to do more to find poverty and spur development. "Cutting aid to developing countries is one of the least efficient ways to cut the budget since it's not very much money in the scheme of things, but it has the biggest impact on poor people."

Kripke says it's natural for political leaders to protect their own citizens in times of crisis. "We're already seeing that around the world, both in the United States and Europe, but also in developing countries. They're making new commitments to provide funding assistance, economic stimulus to help the working class, the middle classes ride out this economic storm…. That makes sense. But it also makes sense to make sure that the poorest people don't suffer the consequences of decisions they had no role in and problems they had no role in creating."