Southern Africa

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 5:46 pm on 19 February 2003.

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Photo of The Bishop of Chelmsford The Bishop of Chelmsford Bishop 5:46, 19 February 2003

My Lords, I greatly welcome this timely debate initiated by the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich. The Church of England fully supports the Millennium Development Goals and is using them as a basis for its development and advocacy work. However, based on current trends, we are concerned, as other noble Lords have indicated, that most of these goals will not be reached in southern Africa by 2015.

To reverse the stagnation or increase in poverty, hunger, child malnutrition, HIV/AIDS prevalence, deforestation and degradation will, at the very minimum, require massive year-on-year investment in basic health and education services, sustaining rural livelihoods, and social and economic infrastructure. It will also require consistent and concentrated political commitment from governments and donors to prioritise poverty in their domestic and foreign aid spending, and a furthering and strengthening of participatory models of development.

Several avenues exist for mobilising the required investment and plugging the increasing outflow of resources from southern African countries. One is an increase in bilateral overseas development aid to the long promised 0.7 per cent of GDP by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development countries with increasing expenditure on the poorest countries and not those that carry more strategic or political importance to donor countries. To that end, as has already been indicated, Christian Aid welcomes and supports the Chancellor's proposal for an international finance facility, which is intended to double the amount of developmental aid from OECD countries by 2015. It has grave concerns, however, that countries will have to continue to open up their markets indiscriminately as a condition for accessing more resources from this facility.

Another avenue has to be the full cancellation of the external bilateral and multilateral debts, which date from the era of the oil crisis and structural adjustment policy lending, of Malawi, Mozambique, Zambia, Tanzania and Lesotho, especially debt owed to the World Bank and IMF.

There is also the non-reciprocal opening of European Union, north American and Asian markets to specially processed agricultural, textile and clothing exports from southern African countries, which would encourage more domestic and foreign investment and therefore growth.

Lastly, one could increase the terms of trade in southern African countries by setting a target for an end to agricultural subsidies in OECD countries that continue to distort global markets for many commodities.

As other noble Lords have stressed, we are all aware of the frightening escalation of HIV/AIDS and its devastating impact on households, communities and economies in southern Africa. That, and the prospect of another year of serious staple food shortages across the region, is plunging large numbers of southern Africans into ever deepening poverty, thus compromising future agricultural production and rural livelihoods. In the spirit of a global partnership, the donor community needs to scale up dramatically and immediately its development assistance to southern Africa.

I shall focus on two main concerns. The first is what the MDGs can achieve. We all recognise that the MDGs are an important symbolic expression of the mutual responsibility of rich and poor countries for creating a more equal world. That has inspired the World Bank and other lenders to commit to new models of development partnership, where aid recipient governments and citizens, instead of lenders and donors, are in charge of developing their vision and journey. Although initial evidence indicates that the mindsets, cultures, and political commitments of donors and aid-recipient governments are still steeped in old ways, it is at least a step in the right direction.

The MDGs are an important mobilising, advocacy and campaigning tool for citizens, parliamentarians and development activities in development countries to advocate increased bilateral donor spending in budget debates, debt cancellation, fairer trading policies and spending on policies, activities and facilities that will contribute to poverty reduction. The MDGs are also a powerful tool for advocating the coherence of international financial institutions policy conditionalities and international trade rules and agreements with the vision of the United Nations for a more equal, less divided world.

The MDGs can encourage output-orientated policy making and expenditure allocation in national and local budgets. The MDGs allow citizens and policy makers in developed and developing countries to assess progress towards eradicating poverty. The MDGs can be used by citizens in developing countries to press for political commitments by their governments to reduce poverty through policy reforms, institutional change and budget reallocations.

The MDGs can establish clear criteria for spending priorities in the donor community. The MDGs can achieve all those aims.

My second focus is global partnership for development. The goal to develop a global partnership for development will be realised only once donor governments and the institutions that they control—the IMF and World Bank—stop receiving debt service repayments from low-income countries on debts that have accumulated as a result of the 1980s debt crisis, and start working towards a mechanism that will guarantee sustainable debt levels in future.

For example, Mozambique, to which other noble Lords referred, Zambia, Tanzania and Lesotho will still pay more debt service to the international financial institutions, bilateral donors and commercial creditors in 2005 than they did in 2000. That clearly threatens the global partnership and those countries' ability to finance the interventions needed to achieve the MDGs. The Church of England's Public Affairs Unit has been calling on the IFIs, the DfID and the international community at large to measure debt sustainability against the resources needed to reach the millennium development goals in each country, and has called for a new debt relief mechanism.

The Public Affairs Unit has also urged the UK Government to increase their spending on HIV/AIDS by at least £750 million a year, to bring it in line with the UN call for a fivefold increase in global resources to win the fight against HIV/AIDS. That money should be channelled mostly through existing bilateral and multilateral aid mechanisms. Without massively scaled up funds to implement HIV/AIDS prevention programmes and to provide sufficient care to peoples and communities living with HIV/AIDS, as well as to invest in public services and economic sectors decimated by the epidemic, six out of the eight MDGs will not be met.

Finally, as was stressed by the noble Lord, Lord Griffiths, southern African governments themselves need to commit to a long-term investment in poverty reduction and to be held accountable for the resources that they manage on behalf of their countries. That will depend on visionary and dedicated political leadership committed to poverty reduction as a priority and to strong, well-resourced public institutions and mechanisms that can sustain and deliver basic services and thereby bring fresh hope to the southern African population.