New multilateral push aims to cut African poverty

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UNITED NATIONS, Sep 15 (Reuters) With Africa lagging behind in global development goals and rich countries cutting aid, leaders of multilateral financial institutions decided on Friday it was time to mobilize resources to reduce extreme poverty on the continent.

Organized by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, officials gathered from the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, the African Union, the African Development Bank, the European Commission, the African Development Bank, the Islamic Development Bank and a number of UN agencies.

''We know that rapid progress is possible, and will work with other world leaders to use all the tools, resources and commitments available to support African countries in halving extreme poverty by 2015,'' the group said in a statement.

At issue are the UN Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), proposed by former Secretary-General Kofi Annan and approved by world leaders in 2000. They include cutting extreme poverty in half, ensuring universal primary education, and stemming the AIDS pandemic, all by 2015.

No one country in Africa will meet all the goals and the continent as a whole lags far behind, Ban said. ''That is the only region in the world where not even a single country is on track,'' he told reporters.

Yet World Bank President Robert Zoellick said the news was not all bleak. Some 17 countries, with a third of the continent's population, have averaged about 5.5. per cent economic growth over the past decade.

Zoellick said the bank in October would focus its annual report on agriculture, where overall poverty reduction has made more progress than in other sectors.

Eight countries, Zoellick said, have benefited from oil revenues and need help in how to spend them while another third of the African population is emerging from war and struggling to survive. ''With the right leadership, the right programs, the right support, you can really be quite successful as Mozambique has been,'' he said.

Mozambique has averaged 8 per cent growth since it was ravaged by a civil war 20 years ago and Rwanda, where nearly a million people were killed in a genocide in 1994 has averaged 7 percent, UN figures show. Both countries eased regulations to attract private investors and built up their infrastructure.

RICH COUNTRIES NOT PAYING Africa was the focus of a G-8 summit in 2005 in Gleneagles, Scotland, where the world's leading industrialized nations pledged to double development aid by 2010 and to free the poorest countries of their debts.

But not even Britain is on track with its aid. According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development), the 30 OECD member states collectively spent 5 per cent less on development aid in 2006 than in the previous year. Italy had a 30 percent cut and the United States, still the largest contributor, reduced aid by 20 per cent.

''Of course international support has not been forthcoming as promised and this has been one of our major concerns,'' said Maxwell Mkwezalamba, the African Union's economic commissioner.

''You look at the commitment commitments made since Monterrey (Mexico) in 2002, the Gleneagles summit in 2005 -- we find that there is not much that has come to Africa.'' At the same time, Mkwezalamba said, ''Africa has to take some initiatives of its own,'' such as mobilizing domestic resources and those from the diaspora.

Murilo Portugal, the IMF deputy managing director, said implementation of financial pledges had been ''broadly flat since 2003.'' If aid is to meet the 50 billion dollars target, donors had to increase net disbursements, excluding debt relief grants, by more than 15 percent every year. But IMF projections indicate that aid by 2010 is expected to grow only 8 per cent a year, Portugal said.

The group is focusing on agriculture, education, health, infrastructure and statistics to get reliable data, among other areas. Asha-Rose Migiro, the deputy UN secretary-general, has scheduled a working group meeting of all the financial institutions for September 20.

Reuters SZ VP0432

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