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Susan Roylance: U.S., developing countries clash at U.N. over funds for development

Published: Friday, Feb. 17 2012 4:47 p.m. MST

UNITED NATIONS — The goal is the eradication of poverty — a major theme at the U.N. this year. However, considerable difference of opinion exists as to the process needed to accomplish this goal.

The bottom line is that developing countries want the U.S. to kick in more funds to solve their financial problems, and the U.S. wants to see a greater focus on empowering the people.

Confusion reigned in the final hours of the recent Commission for Social Development this week, as developing countries (organized as the Group of 77, which includes 132 member states) voiced their opposition to the language proposed by the U.S. The chairman gaveled the resolution as accepted, and the U.S. rose in protest, calling for a vote to reopen consideration of the draft resolution. The U.S. proposal was defeated by a vote of 22 to 2, with 12 abstentions (rotating membership of 46 countries).

It is very rare to call for a vote in the deliberations of the commission. Decisions are usually a result of consensus — debate and revision until there is an agreement. However, after two weeks of negotiations, no agreement had been reached on the poverty resolution.

In the end, the U.S. spokesman declared, “The U.S. disassociates itself from this resolution!”

The country of Algeria was the spokesman for the G-77. The group opposed the U.S. amendments in five paragraphs and proposed new wording in six paragraphs. The chairman accepted the proposals and gaveled the discussion closed before the U.S. asked for a vote. The U.S. then asked for a vote to consider reopening the negotiations of the resolution on poverty alleviation.

While the final vote was not actually a vote on the poverty resolution, there was a major diplomacy breakdown as the developing countries combined in their opposition to the position of the United States.

An example of the conflict is in operative paragraph 12 — addressing the issue of “decent work for all.” The U.S. wanted to “promote” decent work, while the G-77 wanted to “ensure” decent work.

The G-77 also wanted to add language that would urge developed countries “to make concrete efforts towards meeting the targets of .7 percent of the gross national income of assistance to developing countries.”

The latest official development assistance of the United States was .21 percent of its GNI — compared with the .7 target — according to the Development Cooperation Directorate of the Organization for Economic Cooperaton and Development.

However, this statistic is not comprehensive, since the true measure of American generosity needs to include the amount given by American citizens, companies, nongovernmental organizations and religious institutions.

“In 1970, the U.S. government provided 70 percent of American foreign assistance. Today, the government provides only 20 percent and American citizens and companies provide 80 percent,” according to a USAID report on global partnerships. “When private aid is added, the U.S. is first of all countries in the amount of aid provided to countries in need.”

Private aid is usually more effective — dealing directly with the people. The Hudson Institute in “Rethinking the Uses and Nature of Foreign Aid” pointed out the potential corruptions when “aid projects have to be conducted in real countries with customs officials who want bribes, leaders who favor their own tribes or withhold food from rival tribes or religious groups, doctors who aren’t paid enough by the government so they sell what should be free medicines and services, and lack of free press and elections that provide the important checks and balances on both private and government officials.”

The Chyulu Hills irrigation project in Kenya is an example of the efficient use of funds through a private nongovernmental organization. For several thousand dollars, four wells were drilled, and the people in that part of the world now have food to eat and sell — significantly alleviating their hunger and poverty for a sustainable future. If this amount of money had been sent through the government the project would have cost much more money, and it might not have made it to the rural area of the Chyulu Hills.

The Poverty Alleviation resolution at the Commission on Social Development recognized “there has been progress in reducing poverty, especially in some middle-income countries,” but the progress has been uneven and “the number of people living in poverty in some countries continues to increase, with women and children constituting the majority of the most affected groups, especially in the least developed countries and particularly in sub-Saharan Africa.”

Countries with high levels of poverty are pushing for increased global governance to control the flow of financial resources. Last year the General Assembly of the U.N. passed a resolution to examine the “central role of the United Nations system in global governance.”

In July 2011 the Secretary-General released a new report on the International Finance System and Development — in response to the “urgent challenges arising from the world financial and economic crisis.” U.N. country delegates are now negotiating a resolution on global governance to determine the best way forward. A global tax is under consideration.

“Concerns about rising income inequality continue,” said Sha Zukang, under-secretary-general for economic and social affairs, at the opening of the Commission for Social Development meetings. “High unemployment and lack of social mobility have fueled widespread public indignation in some countries.”

Certainly, indignation was evidenced by developing countries in the poverty discussions at the U.N. last week.

Following the confusing ending of the commission, the U.S. spokesman said, “The U.S. is deeply committed to reducing poverty and hunger. This resolution could have played an important role. … There were efforts to dilute one of the key outcomes: the placement of people at the center.”

While some are now clamoring for a stronger global government, with greater international financial controls and proposals going forward for a world tax to provide funds for development, there is still a recognition of the importance of people and their own contribution toward their development.

The final poverty resolution included this phrase: “Recognizing also that empowering people to strengthen their own capacities is a main objective of development and its principal resource and that empowerment requires the full participation of people in the formulation, implementation and evaluation of decisions determining the functioning and well-being of our society.”

Susan Roylance is the author/editor of a new book on the Family and the Millennium Development Goals. At the U.N., she is the International Policy and Social Development Coordinator for the Howard Center for Family, Religion and Society.

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