Address by Minister of State at the Annual Christmas Lecture on International Relations, DCU (Part 2)
or tied to national commercial interests but framed on respectful partnerships. These are the strengths of Ireland Aid and I would like to see them built on for the future.
Through our aid programme, Ireland demonstrates its solidarity with the poor people of the developing world in very concrete terms. We have bilateral country programmes in six priority countries (Ethiopia, Lesotho, Mozambique, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia). We also provide support for the work of the United Nations and other international development organisations. We work in close partnership with the governments of recipient countries, NGOs, missionary groups and other international donors.
These partnership qualities are the hallmark of the Ireland Aid programme. We work at national and local level to build the capacity of governments to deliver basic social services in a sustainable manner to their people. We must listen even more closely to the voices of the poor. They are clearly asking us to build their capacities to participate in local governance and to demand local level transparency and accountability. Organisational capacity or social capital is perhaps the most important asset of the poor. This means building robust democracies and civil societies in poor countries. I believe that there is a human right to development itself. Through our Aid programme we are vindicating that right in the most practical way.
Our aid programme is also coherent with our overall foreign policy and its focus on human rights, conflict resolution, peacekeeping, disarmament and development.
Irish Missionaries and NGOs have helped to lay the foundations of our national programme of development assistance. It was they who took the fight against poverty to Africa. Many years before the Government began to fund development assistance, they were actively working with the poorest populations in developing countries. They have fostered public interest in development and have helped to create the climate of sympathy, understanding and solidarity which underpins our ODA. They remain intensively engaged in some of the most difficult and hostile environments on earth - taking care of the sick, dealing with refugees and those made homeless through natural disaster and helping local communities to pull themselves out of extreme poverty.
NGOs and Missionaries will continue to be indispensable partners of Ireland Aid. As the Government increases ODA funding, our relationship and dialogue with them must deepen and become more strategic.
As our aid programme expands, so does the need. There are enormous and new challenges. The most urgent of these is the HIV/AIDS epidemic. HIV/AIDS is now a serious threat to development. It is undermining decades of economic and social progress, particularly in Africa. The most recent World health Organisation statistics show that of the 40 million global HIV/AIDS infections, over 28 million are in Africa.
In southern Africa, over a quarter of all adults are infected. Life expectancy is dropping and should reach 35 years by 2010, down from 62 in the 1990s. The disease is slowly decimating a generation, leaving grandparents to take care of orphans (2.7 million orphans in Uganda above.). It is a huge economic strain, increasing demands on already underdeveloped and over-stretched health systems. It has given rise to an international debate about access to medicine at affordable prices. And it threatens to derail progress towards achieving the Millennium Development Goals.
At a Special Session of the UN General Assembly in June this year, the Taoiseach announced that Ireland will allocate an additional $30 million per year to the fight against HIV/AIDS. This is on top of an estimated $16 million that we will spend on HIV/AIDS related programmes in 2000.
Ireland Aid has mainstreamed the fight against HIV/AIDS into all of our development activities. Every new programme is examined to see how it can contribute to halting the spread of the disease. We were one of the first donors to fund the International Aids Vaccine Initiative, an innovative research partnership which is leading the international search for an AIDS vaccine. We are helping to fund national prevention campaigns and the establishment of testing centres. Together with NGOs and Missionaries, we are helping to take care of the infected and the orphans left behind.
The scale of the HIV/AIDS challenge is such that it requires a global response. It is very much a disease of the 21st century and demands new international methods of cooperation. Work is now under way to establish a new Global Fund to fight HIV/AIDS, Malaria and TB. Ireland is actively participating in the small group, chaired by a former Health Minister of Uganda, which is now finalising the structure and operational modalities of the Fund. We have insisted that this new Fund should act in support of national health systems, that it should focus on the poorest and most heavily burdened countries and should operate with a minimum of bureaucracy.
Another challenge to development is the debt burden on poor countries. Before recent international debt initiatives, the debt burden on poor African countries was $310 billion. Debt re-payments were absorbing more than health and education budgets combined.
The Heavily Indebted Poor Country Initiative has sought to help these countries achieve a sustainable exit from the debt treadmill. Twenty three countries have now qualified for such debt relief and are receiving up to $34 billion in debt relief. Other heavily indebted poor countries will qualify for such relief when they have emerged from conflict and have demonstrated their commitment to poverty reduction.
While the international community has worked hard to deal with the debt problem, more needs to be done. There are still countries which, even after the full application of debt relief, will pay more in debt than they spend on essential social services. Many poor countries are now taking out new loans to fund their social sectors and to deal with HIV/AIDS. We must be careful to ensure that we are not slowly building up to a new debt crisis in another few years. The impact of HIV/AIDS on the economies of the most affected countries has not been factored into the calculation of debt relief. This must be rectified.
The progress which has been achieved in securing debt relief would not have been possible without the powerful global campaign of such groups as Jubilee 2000 and its successor Drop the Debt. Such campaigns managed to bring together a large number of NGOs, celebrities and international political figures in support of debt cancellation.
The debt campaign was, in many ways, a new phenomenon and has resulted in a much closer dialogue between Governments, international organisations NGOs and other interested groups.
Such powerful advocacy campaigns have also helped focus public attention on key development challenges. The debt campaign has been followed up by such campaigns as the need to make sure that international patent law does not inhibit access by poor countries to life saving medicines. The campaigners have managed to present the concerns of poor countries clearly and to interest the public in often complex development challenges.
This public awareness of development issues, and the strong contribution our national aid programme is making to the global campaign to reduce extreme poverty, is essential to the long term sustainability of ODA.
If, in the years ahead, we are to continue spending hundreds of millions, perhaps over a billion euro per year on development assistance, the public must know that we are making an impact. We must convincingly demonstrate that the taxpayers money is being well spent. We must show that we are lifting people out of poverty, that we are helping to win the fight against HIV/AIDS and that we are helping to create a more just and equitable world.
This reservoir of understanding and good will begins here in our schools and Universities. I am convinced of the fundamental importance of development education to fostering the necessary public understanding of development issues and how they are being addressed. I want to see Ireland Aid transformed into a more open, accessible and identifiable organisation. It should be seen as an intrinsic part of Irish society. An organisation which belongs to all of the Irish people and which reflects their will to overcome poverty in solidarity with our partners in the developing countries.
The past year has been the most exciting and the most important in the history of Ireland Aid. We have pledged to the UN that we will join the small club of donors who meet the UN aid target by 2007. And we are matching that commitment with increased spending. I am proud to have been Minister when these decisions were taken. I am now working hard, together with my colleagues on the Ireland Aid Review Committee, to develop the policy and institutional framework which will steer Ireland Aid in the years up to 2007. I hope that you and your fellow students will, in the years, to come, see the impact of what we are now putting in place and that you, too as citizens, will consider playing a role in helping us to fight poverty and to achieve the Millennium Development Goals.
Ireland has benefitted from the generosity of others over many years. We have a recent memory of poverty, mass emigration and colonisation. We can therefore. empathise with these poor emerging democracies and development partnerships with them so that their people can achieve their people can achieve their full potential as we have done.