January 10, 2002
 Volume 6, Number 3

New USAID Program Takes Tentative Steps Away from Population Control

        At a Washington D.C. press conference on Tuesday, Andrew Natsios, the head of the US Agency for International Development (USAID), announced what may be a major shift in USAID policy away from promoting fertility decline as a chief means to achieve international development.
        According to "Foreign Aid in the National Interest," "As far back as the mid-1980s, it was reported that demographic factors such as fertility decline and population growth play a role in economic development - but that good governance, adequate resources, sound economic policies, and lack of corruption are even more important....The conclusion, then, is that good economic policies do more to reduce poverty than fertility and family planning programs." Since USAID is the main US foreign aid agency, distributing about $10 billion every year, this report promises to have profound implications for US funding priorities.

         The report asserts that, for the majority of developing countries, health care programs should expand beyond a reproductive health mentality in order to address the needs of all members of a family. "Global health programs can shift their focus from women of reproductive age and children under 5 to entire families, including income earners and elderly dependents," the report states. This shift is deemed essential for sustained development, since "If both aging dependents and productive breadwinners are chronically ill, a family's future is bleak. Hence the importance of health strategies that aid economic growth."

         The report also concludes that "The near-term challenge is to learn more about families - their problems, their aspirations, and how they are adapting to changing living patterns and health status. How are they allocating their resources to meet changing demands, and how can foreign assistance help that process?"
        "Foreign Aid in the National Interest" reflects the Bush administration's broader foreign aid principles, principles enumerated in the administration's "Millenium Challenge Account."
        For example, the USAID report asserts that countries that engage in authentic political and economic reforms should be rewarded by increases in US funding. This approach, it is believed, will make US international aid substantially more efficient, help reforms become permanent and encourage other nations to embrace their own policy changes. The report states that "Levels of foreign assistance must be more clearly tied to development performance and to demonstrations of political will for reform and good governance. Good performers must be tangibly rewarded...."

        At the same time, "If there is no political commitment to democratic and governance reforms, the United States should suspend government assistance and work only with nongovernmental actors."

        USAID's staff includes holdovers from the Clinton administration who may be reluctant to adopt such dramatic changes. However, to date, the Bush administration has shown an unwillingness to compromise its core beliefs in the realm of international relations.

Copyright - C-FAM (Catholic Family & Human Rights Institute). Permission granted for unlimited use. Credit required.

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