South must improve

The second summit of G-77 and China, a grouping of 132 developing countries, began yesterday in Doha, Qatar, with a focus on South-South cooperation, North-South cooperation, and the debt crisis of poor nations. Qatar’s emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani proposed before some 50 heads of state or government that a fund be set up for economic, social, health and education development and to address the problems of hunger, poverty and humanitarian catastrophes. Sheikh Hamad offered to pay US$20 million as Qatar’s contribution towards ‘the South Fund for Development and Human Circumstances’ and called on the countries of North and South to do likewise.

The two-day summit is expected to come out with a Doha declaration and Doha Working Plan, which stresses cooperation among South countries at bilateral, sub-regional, regional and inter-regional levels. The concepts and objectives of these ideas are fine, and many such declarations and plans have been adopted by the various forums of developing countries. The fundamental problem, however, with almost all of these ideas has been the lack of a will among the member states to implement them. Perhaps, the commitments made at Doha may be forgotten as soon as the summit concludes today. It is in this area that the G-77 should do something concrete to make itself a genuinely beneficial alliance of the countries of South.

True, industrialised countries have not done enough to help South. However, last week’s decision by the G8 countries to write off $40 billion of debts owed by poor nations is a welcome gesture. External debt owed by developing countries, as of 2003, is reported to total $2.5 trillion dollars, up from $100 billion in 1973 and $1.7 trillion in 1999, and many heavily indebted countries are unable even to service their debt, let alone finance their economic and social development. Most of North countries, including the US, have not fulfilled their pledge, made long ago, of allocating 0.7 per cent of their Gross National Product (GNP) as aid to developing countries, which account for 80 per cent of world population. But poor countries cannot escape by only blaming the rich. They should improve themselves through good governance, accountability, and transparency.