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U.S. President Announces New Development Aid Policy, Asks For Greater Accountability

  • Nikola Krastev

U.S. President Barack Obama speaks at the Millennium Development Goals summit at the United Nations in New York.

U.S. President Barack Obama speaks at the Millennium Development Goals summit at the United Nations in New York.

UNITED NATIONS -- In a broadly outlined speech to the UN General Assembly, U.S. President Barack Obama has announced a change in the way the United States distributes aid to developing countries.

Assisting developing countries in the short term is an inefficient approach, Obama said, and the United States intends to focus on a long-term strategy for development, a development that is "sustainable."

Obama was speaking on September 22 at a major UN forum summing up progress toward the Millennium Development Goals, a strategic UN program adopted in 2000 aimed at significantly reducing poverty by 2015.

The U.S. president cited progress, noting that tens of millions of children are receiving better education, cases of malaria and tuberculosis are down, and access to clean drinking water is up.

Around the world, hundreds of millions of people have been lifted from extreme poverty. But Obama said that "we must also face the fact that progress towards other goals that were set, has not come nearly fast enough. Not for the hundreds of thousands of women who lose their lives every year simply giving birth. Not for the millions of children who die from the agony of malnutrition. Not for the nearly 1 billion people who endure the misery of chronic hunger."

To better adjust its international aid-distribution policy, Obama said, the U.S. government conducted a comprehensive review of its major development programs. Besides government experts, NGOs, the private sector, and a number of international partners were consulted.

The first change affects how "development" is defined. If the traditional method was to calculate development aid by money spent on food and medicines, it was not helping the recipient countries to move from poverty to prosperity. This must be changed, the president said, by diplomacy and by changing trade and investment policies.

Obama said that "the purpose of development, what's needed most right now -- is creating the conditions where assistance is no longer needed. So we will seek partners who want to build their own capacity to provide for their people. We will seek development that is sustainable."

Breaking Down Barriers

The second change, the president said, was to move from dependence to real development. The vicious cycle in which poor countries rely on outside assistance for decades, he said, must be broken.

"So let's put to rest the old myth that development is mere charity that does not serve our interests. And let's reject the cynicism that says certain countries are condemned to perpetual poverty," Obama said. "For the past half-century has witnessed more gains in human development than at any time in history."

To foster prosperity, Obama said, aid-recipient countries should encourage entrepreneurship, invest in infrastructure, expand trade and welcome investment.

He said the United States was committed to breaking down barriers to regional trade and was urging countries to open their markets to the developing world.

Fighting Corruption

Obama further outlined a global effort to combat corruption -- which has been determined by the United Nations to be the single greatest barrier to prosperity in many places. He described corruption as a profound violation of human rights.

"That's why we now require oil, gas, and mining companies that raise capital in the United States to disclose all payments they make to foreign governments," Obama said. "And it's why I urged the G20 to put corruption on its agenda and make it harder for corrupt officials to steal from their own people and stifle their nations' development."

As the UN's largest contributor, the United States provided $598 million in 2009. Still, even a superpower cannot solve the world's problems alone.

"No one nation can do everything everywhere and still do it well. To meet our goals, we must be more selective and focus our efforts where we have the best partners and where we can have the greatest impact," Obama said.

"And just as this work cannot be done by any one government, it cannot be the work of governments alone. In fact foundations and private sector, NGOs are making historic commitments that have redefined what's possible."