: THAT ELUSIVE TARGET OF 0.7 PERCENT
In 1970, global leaders agreed that 0.7 percent of the gross domestic product (GDP) of their states should be devoted to aid. This undertaking was later reaffirmed at the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development, held in Rio de Janeiro and at the UN International Conference on Financing for Development that took place in Monterrey, in 2002.
The need for adequate and dependable supplies of foreign assistance was also underscored with the establishment of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).
The eight MDGs, agreed at the UN Millennium Summit in New York, seek amongst other things to address chronic hunger and poverty, the lack of universal primary education, gender inequality and unfair global trade rules. The deadline for the MDGs is 2015.
To date, only five countries have managed to reach the aid target of 0.7 percent of GDP: Denmark, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway and Sweden. (Six others have pledged to do so by 2015, namely Belgium, Britain, Finland, France, Ireland and Spain.)
"What is vision without implementation? That is hallucination. Unless rich countries put into action what they committed, or unless they recommit themselves and implement their promises, Africa will not be able to achieve the MDGs," Eveline Herfkens, coordinator of the UN Millennium Development Goals Campaign, said at a conference held in Rome.
"These leaders sign agreements during meetings away from home and after that they take planes back home. We at the UN have a problem with this because we cannot enforce these agreements," Herfkens added.
The conference, convened by the municipality of Rome and Inter Press Service, formed part of Italia Africa 2005, a programme of events culminating in a rock concert Saturday, to draw attention to the plight of Africa.
Last Thursdays meeting focused largely on Europes efforts to help Africa attain the MDGs and the part that individual cities in wealthy nations can play in this regard. About 150 persons were in attendance, including government representatives, UN and civil society delegates, and journalists.
Despite serving as venue for the conference, Italy has some way to go in meeting its aid commitments.
The country presently gives just over three billion dollars in development assistance. According to Giuseppe Deodata, general director for development cooperation at the foreign affairs ministry, this amounts to about 0.15 percent of GDP.
While admitting his countrys aid shortfall, Deodata insisted that Italys foreign assistance could not simply be dismissed. "This is not a small amount We have to start from somewhere," he noted.
For her part, Njeri Mwangi Kinyoho coordinator for the Global Call to Action Against Poverty (G-CAP) highlighted the importance of debt relief in curbing the levels of poverty in Africa.
"The rich nations must ensure 100 percent debt cancellation to Africa if they are serious about fighting poverty," she told conference delegates. "Africa suffers because of repaying debts."
G-CAP, an umbrella organization for about 600 development groups around the world, puts the total external debt for Africa at about 330 billion dollars. It also claims that African governments spend between 30 and 40 percent of their national budgets servicing these debts money that should be allocated to health, education and other social needs.
Ethiopian President Girma Wolde-Giorgis said a substantial investment in agricultural development was also key to improving the quality of life across Africa.
"We in Ethiopia believe that achieving the MDG goals relies to a large extent on progress achieved in rural and agricultural development. This is mainly because about 85 percent of our population lives in rural areas," he told the conference.
"It is with this in mind that the government has decided to embark on a substantial and sustained investment in agricultural research and extension programmes in farmer education, training, in water harvesting and in building the physical and institutional infrastructures of rural markets."
These words were echoed by Malian Agriculture Minister Seydou Traore, who noted that in 2003, leaders meeting at an African Union summit in Mozambique had promised to set aside 10 percent of their countries GDP for agriculture, by 2008.
Mali had already met this target, said Traore: "Today we are at 15 percent. This is a strong signal. It is agriculture that will give us the best potential in achieving development in line with the MDGs."
A review of the progress
that has been made in achieving the development goals since the Millennium
Summit in 2000 is to be held in New York, in September. (END)