US & Canada

Obama pledges revamp of foreign aid policy

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Media captionUS President Obama: "We need to be big hearted but also hard headed"

President Barack Obama has told the UN a revamped US foreign aid policy will help lift nations out of poverty by focusing on good governance and encouraging trade and investment.

Mr Obama told the UN summit in New York on the Millennium Development Goals that the focus should be on development, not dependence.

But he insisted helping poor nations was in the US national interest.

He said the US would do its part to help lift millions out of poverty.

But with five years left to reach the Millennium Development Goals (MDG), Mr Obama said the world "must do better".


The eight MDGs were adopted in 2000, and include improving health care, increasing access to education and promoting equal rights for women.

"If the international community just keeps doing the same things the same way, we will miss many development goals," Mr Obama said.

He said it was in America's, and other rich nations', interests to help the world's poorer countries, despite the economic downturn.

"In our global economy, progress in even the poorest countries can advance the prosperity and security of people far beyond their borders, including my fellow Americans."

He said: "When millions of fathers cannot provide for their families, it feeds the despair that can fuel instability and violent extremism."

He announced a new focus in US aid on moving beyond providing assistance to offering "nations and peoples a path out of poverty".

This would be done by working with co-operative nations to develop their economies over the long term.

Countries that were willing to create attractive environments for investment and trade would be helped, Mr Obama said.

He also said democracy and good governance would be encouraged and corruption fought.

"We know that countries are more likely to prosper when governments are accountable to their people. So we are leading a global effort to combat corruption.

"We will reach out to countries making the transition from authoritarianism to democracy, and from war to peace. The people of Liberia show that even after years of war, great progress can be achieved," Mr Obama added.

BBC diplomatic correspondent Jonathan Marcus says this was a restrained, even humble speech, suggesting an America that wants to listen to others whilst still willing to lead on the global stage.

Earlier, UK Deputy PM Nick Clegg confirmed that the UK was committed to increasing the money it gave in overseas aid, and called on other rich nations to follow its lead.

Mr Clegg told the UN that the UK would raise its spending on aid from 0.5% of annual economic output to 0.7% from 2013.

Earlier in the day the UN launched a $40bn (£25.5bn) health initiative aimed at saving the lives of 16 million women and children over the next five years.

Announcing the Global Strategy for Women's and Children's Health, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said women and children "play a crucial role in development".

The Millennium Development Goals aim to tackle global poverty and improve living standards for developing countries. We've taken key indicators, broken down by UN-defined regions as shown here, and set the 2015 target as a baseline to reveal the true picture of how each region is faring.
Developing nations are on track to meet the poverty target largely because of progress in China. But in Sub-Saharan Africa and Western Asia the proportion of hungry people has increased. Globally, the number of hungry people rose from 842 million in 1990-92 to 1.02 billion people in 2009.
While countries in Sub-Saharan Africa have seen great improvements by abolishing school fees and offering free school lunches, the target is unlikely to be met. The drop-out rate is high, and although there has been some investment in teachers and classrooms, it is not enough.
Gender gaps in education have narrowed, but remain high at university (tertiary) level in some developing countries because of poverty. Employment for women has improved but there are still many more women than men in low-paid jobs. There have been small gains for women in political power.
Child deaths are falling but at the current rate are well short of the two-thirds target. They more than halved in Northern Africa, Asia,Latin America and the Caribbean but remain high in parts of Southern Asia. In Sub-Saharan Africa the absolute number of children who have died actually increased.
Although in all regions there are advances in providing pregnant women with antenatal care, the maternal mortality rate is unacceptably high, with progress well short of the decline needed to meet the target. Those at most risk are adolescent girls, yet funding on family planning is falling behind.
The HIV/AIDS epidemic has stabilised in most regions, but new infections are rising in some areas and antiretroviral treatment has mushroomed. Global funding has helped control malaria but is still far short of what is needed. On current trends tuberculosis will have been halted and started to reverse.
The world will meet the drinking water target on current trends but half the population of developing regions still lacks basic sanitation. The 2010 target to slow decline in biodiversity has been missed. Improving the lives of 100 million slum dwellers has been achieved but their actual numbers are rising.
Levels of aid continue to rise, but major donors are well below target. In terms of volume the USA, France, Germany, UK and Japan are the largest donors. G8 countries have failed to deliver on a promise to double aid to Africa. Debt burdens have been eased for developing countries.
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