Britain's lofty ambition to turn 2005 into a breakthrough year
for tackling global poverty has cleared the first hurdle, but
development experts are unsure if it will prove a turning point.
Last weekend's agreement in principle by the G-7, the group of
seven countries to write off up to 100 percent of debts owed by
dozens of poor countries kick-started the British-inspired "Marshall
Plan" for the developing world.
But economists and charities warn of formidable challenges to
truly transforming the relationship between rich and poor.
They also note that the world's foremost financial power, the US,
appears skeptical of some of the British initiatives.
"As long as the US keeps saying they are not interested, then
that slows down what will happen," says Oliver Morrissey, professor
of development economics at Nottingham University. "The Europeans
can go it alone on some aspects, but whether it's enough remains to
Debt-relief campaigners have for years argued that the heavy
burden of repayments was stunting growth and exacerbating health,
education and development problems in poor countries. Many countries
still devote more resources to paying off loans to rich countries
and international institutions than they do on healthcare.
But simply forgiving debt is not that straightforward, experts
say. Western governments want to know that the money they are
releasing will go toward poverty relief and not be spent on
presidential palaces and fighter planes.
They also need to know that their domestic public is prepared to
pay. Loans given out by institutions like the World Bank originate
in national treasuries, which are underwritten by taxpayers.
Professor Morrissey says donors have gone a long way toward
making relief more acceptable.
"The mechanisms for monitoring and allocating aid have improved
significantly," he says. "There is a greater understanding of which
countries have implemented mechanisms and which haven't."
Saturday's G-7 agreement trumpeted by British Chancellor Gordon
Brown calls for a case-by-case analysis of poor countries. Some who
meet criteria for good governance and economic reform, like
Ethiopia, Mozambique, and Uganda, stand to cash in. Others ruined by
conflict and corruption, like Sudan and Somalia, may not.
"Countries that are clearly not going in the right direction
aren't eligible for this kind of relief," says Adrian Lovett,
campaigns director at Oxfam International, which is a partner in a
broad coalition called Make Poverty History.
He points to an Oxfam program in Malawi that checks if schools
have received funding directed toward them. If they haven't, reports
are published in the local press. "It's democracy in action,
triggered by the debt-relief process," he says.
Then there are budget pressures. …