A coalition of 160 United States-based nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) is asking President George W. Bush to substantially increase aid to impoverished countries next year to ensure that money for reconstruction of Afghanistan does not come at the expense of other needy nations.
"Unfortunately, the people of Afghanistan are not alone in their suffering," says a letter sent to Bush this week by InterAction, an umbrella for major U.S. church, humanitarian, relief, and development groups.
"It is essential that the money provided for Afghanistan does not come at the expense of other development and humanitarian programs," the letter continues.
The letter comes amid concern about the huge costs to restore a functioning economy and government in Afghanistan, as well as calls by some nations, notably Washington's closest ally, the United Kingdom, for a global "Marshall Plan" to tackle the root causes of terrorism.
Earlier this week, the British Chancellor of the Exchequer, Gordon Brown, met with senior U.S. officials about such a plan, which would double official aid to poor countries from US$50 billion to US$100 billion a year over the next 50 years.
But he reportedly received little encouragement from U.S. Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill who has long been skeptical of the effectiveness of foreign aid. "Over the last 50 years," he said at a World Bank meeting in Canada last month, "the world has spent an awful large amount of money in the name of development without a great degree of success."
U.S. aid to poor countries has fallen steadily over the last 15 years to about 0.1 percent of U.S. gross domestic product (GDP), the lowest percentage of all developed countries, and a tenth of the percentage of GDP Washington contributed under the Marshall Plan 50 years ago.
Congress is expected later this week to approve a foreign-aid budget for next year totaling about US$15.3 billion, but only about two-thirds of that is earmarked for development and humanitarian assistance in poor countries.
According to early United Nations estimates, reconstruction costs for Afghanistan will come to at least US$6.5 billion over the next five years and could total as much as US$25 billion.
While the Bush administration has not yet said how much it is willing to commit to the effort, a bill recently introduced in Congress calls for Washington to provide US$1.6 billion over the next four years.
If a substantial portion of that money is included in the 2002 foreign-aid budget, according to the NGOs, then it will have to come out of such critical accounts as anti-AIDS efforts in Africa, hurricane reconstruction assistance in Central America, or child survival and education programs in Latin America and Asia.
"Just because Africa and Asia aren't on the front pages doesn't mean they're not important," says Anne Van Dusen, executive vice-president of Save the Children USA, a member of the Interaction coalition.
The groups are asking that Bush instead submit a 2002 supplemental request for Afghan reconstruction, after Congress returns to Washington early next year, while substantially increasing his request for the 2003 foreign budget, which will be prepared over the next two months.
There is some support for this approach on Capitol Hill. Twenty-eight senators and 63 representatives have signed on to letters in recent weeks calling for major increases in development assistance as part of the U.S. campaign against terrorism.
"If there were ever a time to go for an increase in the international affairs account, this is the time," says Van Dusen.
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