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This fall, the United Nations will convene world leaders and ask them to commit to some sweeping goals - ending poverty and hunger, stopping preventable deaths of newborns and children and halting epidemics like AIDS and malaria - all by the year 2030. It is an ambitious agenda and an expensive one. Funding it is the subject of a conference this week in Ethiopia's capital, Addis Ababa. NPR's Nurith Aizenman reports.
NURITH AIZENMAN, BYLINE: The revolutionary agenda actually builds on an only slightly more modest agreement from 2000. Back then, nations vowed that by the end of this year, 2015, they would cut in half the number of people who have to get by on less than $1.25 a day, along with drastically reducing deaths from disease and poor healthcare.
Many of those targets have been met, including the extreme poverty goal. And it was substantially due to an unprecedented ramp-up in aid from rich countries to poor ones. But already, there are worries the richer countries aren't going to step up for the next 15 years. Tom Hart heads the ONE Campaign, which advocates for international aid.
TOM HART: There seems to be a gap between the soaring rhetoric of these new goals - end extreme poverty, ending hunger - doesn't seem to be matched by the political will and the financing.
AIZENMAN: He knows that in the last decade, international assistance rose almost 70 percent to about $135 billion annually. But with the exception of Britain and a few smaller countries, no nation has lived up to earlier promises to devote at least 0.7 percent of their gross national income to aid. Even worse, says Hart, they're spending less than a third of their existing aid on the poorest, most desperate countries. He says the share should be at least half.
HART: So we're asking donors, out of that precious foreign aid pot dedicated to the poorest, make sure that it is reaching those who need it the most.
AIZENMAN: Hart is particularly disappointed that the U.S. government, the world's largest donor, isn't taking the lead on this. But Alex Thier with the U.S. Agency for International Development says if you count fragile states like Nigeria or Pakistan that aren't the poorest but that face serious challenges, the U.S. does spend about half of its aid on the neediest.
ALEX THIER: Those countries tax the world. Countries that are in conflict create refugees, become vectors for disease and sometimes even requirements for military engagement.
AIZENMAN: And Thier says it doesn't make sense to commit to devoting a specific percentage of aid to countries in this category.
THIER: We're not looking to tie our hands. We're looking to engage in good development practice.
AIZENMAN: But for all the wrangling over aid dollars, Amina Mohammed, a top United Nations official, says this conference also marks an important milestone. All sides in the discussion recognize that government aid dollars are not going to be enough.
AMINA MOHAMMED: The billions that we've had from official development assistance is insufficient. We need trillions for this menu. And so what this agenda needs to do is to move from billions to trillions.
AIZENMAN: Raising those trillions means unlocking other forms of funding for poor countries. So a lot of the discussion at this conference is about how to make it easier for private companies to invest in things like building roads and power plants in poor countries by offering them loan guarantees and helping them unravel complicated regulations. Also, notes Mohammed, there's a whole set of initiatives to help governments of poor countries raise more revenues through more efficient tax collection.
MOHAMMED: Frankly, this is what's the big difference here, is that, you know, it's not about me putting money on the table per se, but it's giving you the tools and those keys that you need to go get them if you've got a good plan.
AIZENMAN: This is not pie in the sky, she says. If we get this right, we can actually transform the world into a peaceful and prosperous place. Nurith Aizenman, NPR News.
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