Friday, 13 July 2007

New EU ‘MDG contract’ lacks focus on health and education

A new EU plan to make development aid more predictable is not sufficiently focused on improving health and education in poor countries, the Dutch organisation Oxfam-Novib has complained. Officials at the European Commission are currently discussing the possibility of basing part of aid to African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) countries on a six-year scheme whereby money is paid directly into the national coffers of recipients. The scheme has been dubbed an 'MDG contract', in reference to the United Nation's Millennium Development Goals of reducing extreme poverty by 2015. Yet while the MDGs primarily relate to health and education, the Commission has proposed that its contract should also concern issues such as energy, infrastructure and investment climate. These have at most a tenuous link to the goals. Sylvia Borren, director of Oxfam-Novib, described the inclusion of these issues as "very worrying", especially as the Commission has been reluctant to prioritise health and education in its aid plans for the ACP.

Out of more than 60 country strategy papers that the Commission has drawn up for the ACP, the number that recommend making health or education the central focus are in single figures. This is despite how countries such as Zambia and Madagascar explicitly asked the Commission to concentrate on these sectors. Borren was speaking at a seminar in Brussels organised by Europe External Policy Advisers (EEPA). Despite her reservations about the Commission's proposal, she recognised that long-term predictable funding is essential to deal with the chronic shortage of health and education workers in poor countries. Oxfam has estimated that over 4 million doctors and nurses and 2 million teachers are required to address such problems as infant mortality and illiteracy. A key question for the Commission is whether its proposed contract will help to train and pay the health workers and teachers that are urgently required (>>> EEPA briefing paper).

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