EU aid study critical of efforts to fight poverty

By CONSTANT BRAND
BRUSSELS, Belgium (AP) — A food crisis and economic turmoil are threatening to scuttle U.N. goals to halve extreme poverty around the world by 2015, according to an EU report released Friday.

The report, written by a group of researchers from European and U.S. universities, urged top global donors such as the 27-nation EU bloc, the United States and others to meet their aid promises and make sure their aid is spent effectively.

At a time of tight national budgets and the U.S. financial crisis, “Progress needs to be accelerated and this requires stronger policy coherence at all levels,” said Francois Bourguignon, from the Paris School of Economics, who chaired the group.

Despite some advances, the researchers warned donors to adapt their aid policies quickly to meet new problems ahead.

The group painted a dire picture for the world’s poorest nations, especially those in sub-Saharan Africa, which see the highest rates of poverty and deprivation.

“The immediate growth outlook for developing countries is less positive than for at least a decade, with the slowdown of the global economy together with oil and food price shocks,” the report said. “This affects the economic prospects for poor countries, may reduce capital, investment and migratory flows benefiting developing countries, and also risks undermining support for development aid in rich countries.”

The surge in food prices was partly due to the production of bio-fuels in the EU and United States, the group said, adding it is “undoubtedly slowing down, and possibly reversing poverty reduction.”

The report said progress to date had been “highly uneven,” with Asian nations such as India, China and Indonesia moving ahead, thanks to strong economic growth, but others in Africa staying behind because little has been done to ensure aid programs are drawn up better to address specific problems they face.

It also urged donors to start drawing up aid goals beyond the 2015 target, warning that many of the poorest countries will not be able to meet the goals in seven years time. The report said the location and distribution of poor people is changing due to a rapid shift of populations from rural areas to cities and changing economic times.

The EU’s Development Aid Commissioner Louis Michel has told member states they must increase their assistance to poor countries, if they want to meet the U.N. goals.

Oxfam International, Action Aid and other relief agencies have criticized the EU for not doing more to meet the aid promises and urged it to set binding spending increases.

Statistics in April showed the EU as a whole slipped below 2006 aid levels last year. It was the first time that had happened since it committed itself in 2000 to raising aid spending on a yearly basis.

The 27 EU nations spent 0.38 percent of their gross national income on development aid in 2007, compared with 0.41 percent in 2006. That amounted to 47.7 billion euros ($69.2 billion) in 2006, and euro46.1 billion ($66.9 billion) in 2007.

The targets, agreed to by EU nations and other international donors at the U.N. in 2000, represented major commitments to halve extreme poverty by 2015, among other aims.

They promised to set aside at least 0.5 percent of gross national income to fund development aid by 2010, and 0.7 percent by 2015, to meet U.N. targets.

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