Social services


Child poverty, development targets debated

5 April 2001

A conference on child poverty called by British Chancellor Gordon Brown and Secretary of State for International Development Clare Short received strong support from participants including non-governmental organisations. But concerns remain on how to move from rhetoric to action.

The conference on 26 February in London, brought together representatives of the UN, the World Bank and the IMF with the governments of developed and developing countries, charity organisations, faith leaders and business. It aimed to develop an agenda to meet the 2015 international development targets on poverty.

According to a World Bank background paper for the conference, the goals will not be achieved at current rates. Although the share and number of poor people declined in Latin America in the 90s, the opposite is true for Africa where poverty has been on the rise for a decade. Participants pointed out the paper lacked child-specific indicators, relying on basic assumptions about how policies affect children. Participant NGOs advised the World Bank, IMF and developed country governments to extend the debt cancellation for all heavily indebted countries and called for actions on education, health, HIV/AIDS, trade and investment and the root causes of conflict and violence.

The conference unveiled proposals for a global purchase fund to provide cheap vaccines against childhood diseases, as well as new funds for education by the UK and Italy. Less clear at this stage is exactly how these funds will be channelled through the poverty reduction strategy papers (PRSPs) of individual countries, and what the criteria will be for eligibility, selection of beneficiaries and national administration. Tax credits on donations of drugs and vaccines from the pharmaceutical industry were also announced. However, critics point out these do not address the more troublesome trade-related aspects of intellectual property rights which prevent developing countries from producing their own drugs at affordable prices.

NGOs welcomed these new efforts, but called for greater specificity, particularly in relation to the general commitments made by the World Bank and IMF on social impact assessments of adjustment operations. NGOs said they expect to see the World Bank and IMF register progress towards the international development targets at their spring and annual meetings.

With the potential for PRSPs to become the dominant donor framework for nationally led development processes, the role of the IMF and the World Bank in achieving the development targets will remain important. Yet, much expertise in areas such as health and education resides elsewhere. Apparently weary of familiar criticisms of mission creep by shareholder countries, the Bank gathered UN bodies and developing country officials to a March seminar in Washington DC to see how they can divide up the tasks.

Participants said country specific intermediate goals and improved tracking towards them could help to make political leaders more accountable. Though stressing that progress towards the targets will be fastest in countries with stable market-friendly policies and good governance, Jo Ritzen, World Bank Vice President for Development Policy, concluded by saying that the choice between private and public sector service delivery should be left to each country.

These matters will again be the subject of hot debate at the G8 meeting in Genoa this July (see story, this issue).

“The use of pseudo-scientific language dismisses the efforts of men, women, communities, and their respective governments to transform their own realitySum. The whole [G8] document conveys the view that solutions to the problems of least developed countries will come from the outside”.

Franck Almaric, Society for International Development

comment on the Italian government’s G8 strategy document.