Development is the Goal

Thu, 01/01/2009

 The challenges to development are real, but they are not insurmountable. Ample proof exists that large gains can be made. Success depend on the commitment of developing countries, a commitment that must include promoting good governance and building strong institutions, establishing peace and stability, and preserving and respecting environmental resources. To make development work on the scale envisioned in the adoption of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) in 2000, developed countries also have to do their part, providing much-needed assistance and ensuring that other policies they put in place do not harm development. This partnership between the developed and developing worlds is the key to achieving the MDGs.

Taken together, the MDGs represent a comprehensive vision of human development, one marked by dignity, equality, and opportunity for all. The MDGs include reducing poverty and hunger, increasing school enrollment, empowering women and girls, reducing child mortality, improving maternal health, halting and then reversing the spread of deadly diseases, and ensuring environmental sustainability.

Investing in development is in the interest of everyone. As Americans, we sometimes forget how close we are to the developing world. But bird flu originating in a remote part of Asia can board a plane and arrive in the U.S. in a matter of days or even hours. Similarly, greenhouse gases produced in the U.S. have consequences for farmers across Africa


For the U.S., the return on investment comes in the form of peace, security, and an improvement in our country’s standing in the world. Economically, it means the opening of new export markets for U.S. goods and services, and a wider array of products for U.S. consumers because of new imports.

The past several decades have shown that countries are ready to seize opportunities to escape poverty and that huge numbers of people are able to take great leaps forward. India and China, the two largest countries in the world, have dramatically reduced poverty and are now major players in the global economy. Between 1993 and 2006, Vietman reduced extreme poverty from 58% to 16%. Ghana and Chile, two very different countries a hemisphere apart, have made extraordinary progress against hunger. All around the world, tens of millions of children are attending school who would not have had the opportunity a decade ago.

Long-term food security depends on increasing agricultural productivity and raising the earning potential of poor people. Growth in the agricultural sector and rural economy is crucial. Promoting food security is an important component of U.S. foreign assistance, but food security resources are tilted heavily towards providing support for hungry people in humanitarian crises. Instead of concentrating efforts on increasing agricultural productivity in poor and chronically food insecure countries, the U.S. has found it easier to respond to hunger and malnutrition by providing food aid. The increase in food prices, however, has pushed more additional people into hunger and malnutrition than the total number who are served annually through emergency food aid.

The U.S. spends more in total dollars than any other country on international development (although as a percentage of national income, we spend far less than most rich countries). U.S. development assistance could work far more effectively to get the maximum benefit from all the dollars we put in. For example, trade is critical to spurring economic growth in developing countries, but the U.S. applies the highest trade barriers to imports from the poorest countries – often the very same countries that receive U.S. development assistance. In 2006, Bangladesh received $80 million in U.S. assistance, while the U.S. collected $487 million in tariffs on imports from Bangladesh. The U.S. has been working to increase the competitiveness of Bangladeshi businesses, yet U.S. tariffs make exports from Bangladesh less competitive.

To help achieve the MDGs, the U.S. needs to have a consistent set of policies across government departments. But no one in government is currently in charge of managing this. The U.S. wants it’s development assistance to foster sustainable self-reliance. But policies and procedures too often dictate how development should take place. The input of recipient countries may be ignored, or it may simply be that U.S. policies are not flexible enough to respond to feedback.


Effective development assistance enables poor people to escape debilitating malnutrition, illiteracy, and disease. But the capacity of the U.S. to plan and deliver effective development assistance has diminished as security concerns have overshadowed development priorities. Several observers have said, “Just as there can be no development without security, there can be no security without development.”

A fresh approach to U.S. development assistance is long overdue. Congress and the administration need to develop a national strategy for global development with coordination at the highest levels of government. This could include the establishment of a new cabinet-level department for global development. A department that draw in most, if not all, of the development assistance programs currently scattered throughout the government bureaucracy would produce a greater degree of policy and program consistency and ensure that the development voice is heard at the highest level of foreign policy decisions.