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Tuesday, 19 March, 2002, 15:05 GMT
Fight against world poverty
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By Steve Schifferes
BBC News Online economics reporter
line

Reducing global poverty, and improving health and education in poor countries, are the goals of a summit of world leaders that has opened in Monterrey, Mexico.

The five-day meeting hopes to identify the resources needed to achieve these aims - and to meet the Millennium development goals agreed by the United Nations two years ago.


We're going to a meeting where if we don't come up with more money, things will turn sour and nasty

Clare Short, UK development secretary

The conference is also being seen as a test as to whether the new spirit of international cooperation against terrorism will be extended to tackle world poverty.

US president George W Bush, South Africa's Thabo Mbeki and French president Jacques Chirac are among the 59 heads of state who will attend later in the week.

Millions of children still live in poverty
Millions of children still live in poverty

Critics charge that the conference will be "a fiasco and a flop".

Steve Tibbett of development campaign group War on Want said that "a conference which comes up with no new money, has no plan for new money and no ideas on how to get new money is nothing other than absurd pantomine politics."

But Trevor Manual, South Africa's finance minister, said that the conference plans would mark "a new compact between developed and developing countries".

Aid boost

And Mark Malloch Brown, head of the UN development programme, told the conference that although it may not achieve all its goals, critics should recognise that the result will be a glass that is half full, not half empty.

Last week, both the United States and the European Union pledged big increases in their aid budgets.

The EU said its member states would, collectively, add $7bn more aid by 2006, while the US said it would spend an extra $5bn in the three years from 2004.

However, President Bush has made it clear that the new money would be conditional on economic, political and legal reform in developing countries.

Neither the US nor EU plans will provide the $50bn in fresh aid flows that pressure groups and the World Bank say is needed if the target of reducing world poverty by 2015 is to be met.
UN Development Goals
Halve poverty and hunger by 2015
Universal primary education
Promote gender equality
Reduce child mortality
Improve maternal health
Combat HIV/AIDS and other diseases
Ensure environmental sustainability
Develop a global partnership for development

Nevertheless, after years of declining aid budgets, poor countries, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa, will welcome a reversal of the trend.

UK lead

Clare Short, the UK development secretary, says the aim of the conference is to reward developing countries who have already tried to mobilise domestic resources with international support, and she hopes that not only the amount of aid will be increased, but also its quality.

Mexican police are preparing for mass demonstrations
Mexican police are preparing for mass demonstrations
On Sunday, she told the BBC: "We've got international consensus on how to do the reforms, we've got $50bn and we're going to a meeting where if we don't come up with more money, things will turn sour and nasty."

She welcomed a shift in the Bush administration's position, which included a $5bn aid promise.

"That's not the extra $50bn the World Bank say we need... but it's a turnaround."

The UK is leading a campaign to abolish tied aid, in which aid money can only be used to buy goods in the donor country.

And the UK also supports calls by developing countries for a bigger voice in international institutions such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.

But that could be controversial, especially if rich countries are called upon to reduce their voting power in international bodies.

Radical proposals out

More radical proposals for global governance, with new international organisations for regulating the environment and international taxes, have already been ruled out of consideration.

But the summit is pledged to look at "innovative financing methods" to increase aid flows.

Some non-governmental organisations would like the summit to consider the so-called "Tobin tax" which would tax currency transactions to slow speculation and generate funds for development.

Trade is another issue where little more progress can be expected, despite the fact that falls in commodity prices have hit many poor countries harder than reductions in aid flows.

Rich countries have already pledged to take account of the interests of developing countries in launching a new trade round at a meeting in Doha, Qatar, last year, and are unlikely to want to make any fresh commitments.

See also:

20 Feb 02 | Business
World Bank calls for doubling aid
05 Feb 02 | Business
Annan plea to help world's poor
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