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DEVELOPMENT: ‘No Bailout Plan for the Vulnerable’

Ann Ninan

DOHA, Dec 2 2008 (IPS) - "Good but not enough!" "Missed opportunity!" "Talks fail to deliver!" These were some of the reactions from civil society as the U.N. Financing for Development (FfD) talks drew to a close in Doha, Qatar, on Tuesday.

The Doha poverty talks ended on Dec. 2 Credit:  United Nations

The Doha poverty talks ended on Dec. 2 Credit: United Nations

Deep divisions over the question of how to overhaul the international financial architecture, which nearly derailed the negotiations, were papered over with the governments agreeing to convene another U.N. conference to deal with the ongoing financial crisis and its impact on development.

"The world urgently needs effective decisions and follow-up which are inclusive and decisive. Instead of action plans, (they) spent four days going back and forth on language, not on the food, energy, gender, climate, moral crises," says Sylvia Borren of the Global Call to Action against Poverty (GCAP).

As Borren put it, "What is disappointing is there is no bailout plan for the vulnerable peoples of the world, but huge bailouts for banks and financial institutions."

The review conference, however, reaffirmed the Monterrey goals. It also moved forward in some important areas, chiefly with regard to gender equality. The document commits to the promotion of gender equality and women’s economic empowerment as essential to achieving equitable and effective development.

"But this is not enough," asserts the Women’s Working Group on Financing for Development, a network of nine coalitions including the African Women’s Development and Communication Network (FEMNET), Association for Women’s Rights in Development (AWID) and the International Gender and Trade Network (IGTN).

"The commitments to gender equality in the document will only truly be meaningful if the systemic issues that underpin poverty are decisively addressed," say activists representing the 250 civil society groups and networks that participated in a two-day forum in Doha, Nov. 27-28, ahead of the official meeting.

The Doha conference was called by the U.N. not as a pledging conference but to review progress made in Monterrey, Mexico, in 2002, on commitments for new development aid from rich countries as well as agreements on debt relief, the fight against corruption, public-private partnerships and official development assistance (ODA).

"We have reaffirmed the commitments on ODA made at Monterrey," German Development Minister Heidemarie Wieczorek-Zeul tells the press in Doha. "Development aid has been cut in all preceding crisis, but it is against all our interests to cut back, both for developed and developing countries," she says.

Civil society was vocal in their disappointment. The meeting "barely moves on previous international commitments on tackling global poverty. Even before the food, climate and financial crises hit, existing commitments were in need of an urgent upgrade," says Ariane Arpa of Oxfam International.

"The conference has largely sidelined other related international agreements of this year in Accra and New York rather than building upon them," says Action for Global Health. "Responding to the financial, food, energy and climate crisis should not have obscured the huge efforts that were already needed to achieve the MDGs (Millennium Development Goals)."

A concerted move by civil society to strengthen international cooperation on tax issues by upgrading the U.N. Committee on Tax to an inter-governmental body fell through the cracks.

"The conference did not go so far," admits the executive secretary of FfD, Oscar de Rojas. "What the conference did was to agree (that) cooperation on tax matters has to be strengthened," he explains.

"This conference was an opportunity to address the rules of a system which has led us to the worst crash in decades, and rich governments have failed to take it," says Nuria Molina of EURODAD in a press statement. "The yearly 100 billion dollars of aid to poor countries is dwarfed by the 500 to 800 billion dollars of illicit flows from the South to the North, most of which is tax evasion by multinational companies."

But some other issues on which Doha moved beyond Monterrey were ‘decent work’ and innovative financing mechanisms which include remittances.

The inclusion of the globally endorsed goal of ‘full employment and decent work for all’ was welcomed by civil society as "clear recognition of its centrality to development strategies and invisible work done mainly by women", according to their statement.

For the first time there is a separate paragraph on remittances, the private transfer of billions of dollars annually, from individuals to their families. "That much more needed to be done to facilitate transfers, make it cheaper and far more accessible to people, has been added as a separate paragraph," says FfD executive secretary de Rojas.

Civil society now wants to see the implementation of the recommendations. "We remind delegates and officials that those most seriously affected in every country are expecting material action which reverses the slide into poverty…" their statement urges.

Certainly the challenges are huge. "We have just emerged from five good years, but there was little progress on the MDGs," points out Borren. "Now we’re going into the lean years (because of the global crisis). According to Social Watch (an international watchdog network) meeting the MDG goals is virtually impossible!"

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