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
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
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