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Money talks – US aid
by Robyn L
The World Summit on Sustainable Development

Poignant view of US
Photo: Mandy Paton-Ash
Johannesburg, South Africa •• Aug. 29, 2002 •• SolarQuest® iNet News Service •• In a press briefing by the US delegation today, Paula Dobriansky (Head of delegation and Under Secretary of State for Global Affairs) opened the discussion by claiming that the US is the world leader in sustainable development, having the most concrete and largest scale initiatives and projects. This statement caused more than a few raised eyebrows. She then went on to announce US priority projects and the sums of money that the US was prepared to put into each project. These projects included clean energy, cutting down on hunger in Africa, a Congo Basin development initiative, and the eradication (or movement towards eradication) of diseases such as HIV / AIDS, Malaria and TB.

Various large amounts of money were airily thrown into the statements, along with an estimate of the amount of leverage currency from NGO’s and industry that could be expected, and the global community was challenged by this delegation to hold the US accountable to seeing these projects and statements implemented. After this 15 minute barrage, it was clear that this delegation was defensive, nervous and extremely aggressive in their approach to the discussion.

What followed was a rather uptight Andrew Natsios (Administrator, Agency for International Development) discussing famine in Africa. He began by saying the famine was man-made, while drought was simply a natural hazard. He went on to inform the conference room that during the last severe African drought – which threatened 23 million people - the US moved in and saved almost everyone from the edge of disaster with food aid – the relevance of which I failed to grasp. Coming back down to earth, Mr Natsios very correctly stated that political issues in Africa were complicating famine and food crises, and that Zambia and Malawi (countries he had most recently visited) had 7 famine indicators – an extremely large amount. He stated that a long term solution needs to be found in order to prevent these natural hazards from becoming human disasters every few years. In his opinion, he believed that the road to success lay in the agricultural sector: governments need to re-invest in agriculture and increase agricultural capacity so that when a drought event arrives, although economic loss is a surety, human loss can be avoided.

An interesting question was first on the Q&A agenda: who will the US accept as a monitoring and accountability assessor? What power will this (these) organizations(s) actually have over this monitoring? The US replied that as projects are implemented, the Commission on Sustainable Development will monitor and report on US effectiveness and transparency.

Another extremely relevant question dealt with the figures the US mentioned: was all the money included in the figures new money? What proportion of the figures stated new contributions to projects? Had these budgets been ratified by Congress yet? After some paper shuffling, the US delegation stated that they could not give an estimate of the relative proportions of old and new money, and budgets obviously had to be ratified by Congress at the start of each year. The delegation then launched into an involved and difficult to follow explanation of a credit organization that distributed money put aside by the states – Does this link to the fund for developing nations that the US provides? This was not made clear. It was however made clear that monies would only go to countries that underwent a very selective process and had, amongst other things

  1. good governance (i.e., a US-type democracy)
  2. a market economy and free trade
  3. proven investment in education and human capital
These categories, I must admit, are reasonable. However, when Mr Natsios claimed that he had authority from the White House to personally prevent war from breaking out in Angola (i.e., oversee negotiations in a manner that prevented war from re-starting), I thought he was being a little presumptuous.

Throughout the statements made by the delegation, I could not help but be struck by the arrogance of the speakers and their defensive attitude towards issues raised. Coming from a student’s perspective, I found the delegation a little too inundated with their own (and their country’s) importance. However, the US has put very large sums of money towards third world development programmes, and one can only hope that there is not some sort of double agenda for these initiatives.

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