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USAID chief defends Bush's Africa plan

Says efforts will fail without economic, political reforms




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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Too much aid to Africa without corresponding economic and political reform could cause relief efforts for the continent's poorest countries to fail, the head of the U.S. international aid agency said Sunday.

"You have to make changes to the capacity of governments to manage programs, to write the right laws, to have the rule of law," U.S. Agency for International Development Director Andrew Natsios told CNN.

"If you don't have those other conditions, you can put huge amounts of money into aid programs and they'll be ineffective."

Natsios defended the Bush administration's proposed increase in development assistance to African states from critics like U2 singer Bono, one of the performers at the weekend's Live 8 concerts, who say the additional money is still smaller than necessary.

Aid programs can fail if funding is increased too quickly without the accountability that democratic governments require, he said.

"Bono and many other very well-intentioned people have really never actually run aid programs and seen what happens," Natsios said.

"If you put too much aid too quickly into weak institutions, where there isn't capacity, you have corruption, and the programs don't work."

On Thursday, President Bush previewed his plans for the G8 summit, presenting three new initiatives for Africa, including a $1.2 billion effort to combat malaria. (Full story)

Bush said he had tripled aid to Africa during his presidency and planned to ask Congress to double it again by 2010.

A report last week from the Brookings Institution said, however, that U.S. aid to Africa did not triple from 2000 to 2004, but instead increased by 56 percent in real dollars.

Bush has been unwilling to endorse key elements of British Prime Minister Tony Blair's proposal for donor nations to increase aid to Africa by $25 billion annually by 2010. A second stage in Blair's plan would add another $25 billion per year by 2015.

In a compromise announced during Blair's June visit to Washington, Bush pledged an additional $674 million for "humanitarian emergencies" in Africa. (Full story)

Bush's response to Blair's push for more aid received a mixed response, with aid agencies saying the amounts promised were inadequate.

Blair is this year's chairman of the Group of Eight economic powers, and his ambitious program of debt relief, disease eradication and economic development for Africa will be on the agenda at this week's G8 summit in Scotland.

The summit follows the nine Live 8 concerts held Saturday across the globe to draw attention to anti-poverty efforts in Africa.

A 10th concert is scheduled for Wednesday in Edinburgh, on the eve of the July 6-8 summit at the nearby golf resort of Gleneagles.

Though the United States is the world's largest aid donor in total dollars, it provides a smaller fraction of its overall gross domestic product than other developed countries.

With an $11 trillion economy, the United States currently contributes about .16 percent of its gross domestic product to international aid programs -- about $19 billion. Norway, with a gross domestic product of about $183 billion, contributes .87 percent -- about 1.6 billion.

But Natsios said that comparison is skewed by the fact the United States has the world's largest economy, calling the proportion "a standard that Europeans created basically for their own purposes."

"If we did .7 percent, the aid budget would go from $19 billion to $91 billion. We couldn't spend that money if we wanted to," he said.

He said if the United States did provide that level of assistance, it would be criticized as "imperial aid."

Natsios said U.S. foreign aid totaled $10 billion in 2000 when Bush took office, rising to $19 billion last year and with further increases planned to about $25 billion.

Bush also said Thursday he would support easing the debt burden on many of Africa's countries and push for the completion of free trade negotiations.

In June, finance ministers from the G8 nations agreed to an accord to cancel up to $55 billion worth of debt owed by the world's poorest nations. (Full story)

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