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Sustained Aid Can Prevent Somalias

This op-ed by Jimmy Carter was published in The Wall Street Journal.             

Although we have sent troops to Somalia, we are sobered to realize that Sudan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Mozambique, Liberia, Haiti, Angola, Burma and almost two dozen other nations also cry out for international assistance to find peace or food. Civil wars usually develop when neighbors contend for dwindling supplies of food, water, arable land, or a modicum of human dignity. Freedom, justice and human rights are usurped by the powerful with weapons, to whom these concepts are meaningless or anathema.

International troops cannot be rushed to all war-torn and starving countries to preserve fragile cease-fires or to control war lords who postpone looting until foreign soldiers depart. Timely assistance is often the answer here, not troops. Most international aid agencies and bilateral programs are nearly 50 years old. Their own leaders acknowledge that huge bureaucracies are delivering assistance with appalling inefficiency. Realizing this, those of us with wealth to share have become increasingly averse to doing so. In America, "foreign aid" is becoming a profane phrase, almost politically suicidal for a member of Congress to utter approvingly.

This has led to neglect. The facts are truly disturbing. In 1990, $880 billion was spent world-wide on weapons and preparations for war, 15 times the total of all nonprivate development assistance. Military purchases by the poorest nations have quintupled in the past three decades, so that they are now almost triple humanitarian aid received. Amazingly, only 7% of bilateral assistance and less that 10% of multilateral aid is for education, health, clean water, shelter, sanitation, family planning and nutrition.

Third World foreign debt skyrocketed during the 1980s. When I left the White House there was a net transfer of about $35 billion annually from industrialized to less developed nations. Now, mostly for servicing debt, the net flow is $60 billion from the poorest to the richest countries. The most destitute people labor and exhaust their mines and forests in vain. Total annual exports of Somalia, Mozambique and Sudan will not service their debt.

Despite its great need, Africa has been hit especially hard in the loss of development assistance. Compared with 1990, aid from all countries in 1991 declined $1.3 billion (11%), finances from the World Bank group dropped $600 million (15%), and soft development loans (International Development Agency) fell by $780 million (60%). International Monetary Fund loans plunged 42%. This lost support is particularly counterproductive in the increasing number of countries moving from war to peace and from despotism to democracy. European countries respond best to these needs, with France and the Scandinavian countries giving from 0.25% to 0.36% of their gross domestic product in aid to Africa in 1990. (The U.S. contributed 0.02%.)

Part of the problem is with the aid organizations. Hundreds of well-intentioned international agencies, with their own priorities and idiosyncrasies, seldom cooperate or even communicate with each other. Instead, they compete for publicity, funding and access to potential recipients. Overburdened leaders in developing countries, whose governments are often relatively disorganized, confront a cacophony of offers and demands from donors.

Since its inception in 1961, the U.S. Agency for International Development's effectiveness has been diminished in two major ways. First, a disproportionate number of staffers are based in Washington, rather than in developing countries. Fewer than 38% are career development officers and more than half of these are in Washington. Second, some 80% of all "economic support funds" are spent in Egypt and Israel alone. Further, Congress micromanages the agency's budget, earmarking nearly two-thirds of all "development assistance" funds, thus allowing virtually no flexibility for the agency to direct money where is it needed.

Following a workshop at the Carter Center in October 1989, the Carnegie Corporation established a Task Force on Development Organizations to seek solutions to these problems. This month, U.N. Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali and I convened leaders of private lending and donor organizations, officials of developing countries and representatives of the Bush administration, Congress and the Clinton transition team to evaluate these ideas. Some of our recommendations:

               1. Convene a task force sponsored by private foundations to ensure a neutral forum for coordinating aid programs. Include recipients in this task force.

               2. Assign a representative donor group to assess each recipient country's humanitarian needs, debt burdens, and policies concerning economic reform, democracy, human rights, environmental issues and weapons purchases.

               3. In nations seeking aid, create a council of government officials and representatives of business, agriculture, tourism, consumer and environmental groups to help ensure that all development needs are balanced.

               4. Reduce corruption. At our conference, World Bank representatives reported that an organization is being formed to detect, publicize and eliminate bribes to venal officials.

               5. Maximize use of science and technology.

               6. Assess successful projects, particularly small-scale private ones, so we can emulate them.              

               7. Let locals do it. Whenever possible, citizens of the recipient nation should carry out the projects. A Guyanese business leader said, "Give us the responsibility and let us do the work."

After our conference, Guyana's president and business leaders and Ethiopian officials offered to try the ideas in their countries. With strong support from the White House, the United Nations, and other key donors, these reforms can be implemented. Only then will we see sustainable development adequate to prevent future Somalias.

President from 1977 to 1981, Mr. Carter oversees international policy programs from the Carter Center in Atlanta.

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