Today I attended a panel discussion entitled Leveraging International Frameworks to Fight Poverty at InterAction, the American Council for Voluntary International Action. The talk was part of InterAction's Progress Against Poverty Week. This week is “dedicated to celebrating how far the international development and humanitarian community has advanced in the fight to end global poverty.” The panelists spoke from experience with various humanitarian and development organizations from Oxfam to Bread for the World. Their focus was on the current international climate and interactions between NGOs, governments and international policy makers. The topics ranged from the need to modernize debt relief and the possibilities of an advancement of a coherent development agenda, as well as positive communication between the U.S. and European countries on the subject.
There is a growing international awareness among NGOs that the disconnect between aid policies and international banking and finance has destructive consequences for development. Deadlocks in trade negotiations between developing and rich countries are one of the more obvious symptoms of this. Kofi Annan, former Secretary General of the UN, spoke on World Food Day yesterday blasting rich nations for using the financial crisis as an excuse to decrease their aid commitments. For many scholars, NGO professionals and economic justice advocates,comprehensive foreign assistance reform is emerging as one of the biggest foreign policy topics for the next president. This Tuesday saw the launch of a new coalition spearheaded by Steve Radelet of the Center for Global Development : the Modernizing Foreign Assistance Network. As Kofi Annan pointed out, a coherent development agenda adopted by the donor community would go a long way to mitigating the impacts of the spreading financial crisis on the Global South.
At the InterAction event today, several speakers argued for more direct assistance to African governments. Across the continent, countries such as Liberia have proven themselves to be worthy of non-restrictive aid, but still languish in the face of meager donor commitments of development assistance.
Storm clouds are brewing for a massive overhaul of the global economic system, and I think that as Americans we really need to ask ourselves what role our country will play in that. From addressing diseases like HIV/AIDs to the climate crisis, poor countries in Africa and elsewhere cannot move forward on loans alone need more and better aid to build the capacity of their governments to meet their peoples needs.