AID FOR THE ENTERPRISING

Half the human race – 3 billion people – still lives on less than $ 2 a day. More than 1 billion people do not have safe water to drink. Two billion people lack adequate sanitation. Another 2 billion have no electricity.

These aren’t numbers but men, women and children who wake up each morning to hunger, disease and despair. Lifting humanity out of poverty is one of the greatest moral challenges of the 21st century. And whether we, the world’s greatest democracy, rise to that challenge carries profound implications for freedom, growth and security worldwide.

That is why President Bush has made support for sustainable development a major goal of his national security strategy. On February 5 he presented his ground-breaking Millennium Challenge Account (MCA) initiative to congress, calling it a powerful way to “draw whole nations into an expanding circle of opportunity and enterprise.”

If fully funded by congress, MCA would provide the largest increase in U.S. development assistance since the Marshall Plan. By 2006 it would represent an increase of 50 percent over our core development assistance founding level in 2002. From 2006 onward, we would invest $ 5 billion per year in the MCA. Our funding for existing development assistance programs, which now comes to more than $ 10 billion annually, will continue to rise.

MCA is extraordinary in its magnitude and revolutionary in its approach. It reflects a new international consensus on assistance forged last year at the United Nations Conference on Financing for Development in Mexico and the World Summit on Sustainable Development in South Africa.

Donor and recipient countries agreed that development assistance improves lives most when it is invested in countries that embrace reforms and empower their citizens. In a recent speech titled “A Fresh Dawn for Africa,” Ghana’s President J.A. Kufuor said that “good governance will be the guiding principle on the continent, and when Africa keeps its promise to itself, it will be the magnet to draw the required investments from around the world.”

In that spirit, MCA would target only countries that govern justly, invest in their people and encourage economic freedom. It recognizes that development must come primarily from within countries, not from outside.

MCA funds would flow to countries where governments and citizens work together to set development priorities. The United States and recipient countries would agree to businesslike contracts that set benchmarks and responsibilities. To ensure the effective and efficient use of funds, an independent Millennium Challenge Corporation would oversee this program. As Secretary of State, I would proudly serve as chairman of its board.

MCA would reinforce our more traditional assistance efforts, not replace them. The U.S. Agency for International Development, for example, would help countries that are close to qualifying for MCA assistance reform to the point where they do qualify.

MCA would act as an incentive for countries to improve their policies and practices. It would help developing countries bolster their legal systems and finance investment in health, education and agriculture. It could also supply seed capital for micro-businesses, provide Internet access to craftspeople and otherwise help hardworking men and women harvest the self-respect that comes with earning a decent living.

When I think of how this approach to aid can make a difference in the lives of millions, I remember a conversation I had with the leader of a South American country. We were discussing the strides being made in this hemisphere and across the globe for democracy and free markets, and he said (I paraphrase here): My government has chosen the path of reform, but democracy and market economics take time to deliver. What do I say to Maria Soledad, a poor woman in my country, who still struggles every day to feed her children? To her and countless others like her, democracy and free markets are abstractions.

MCA can bring tangible improvements to the lives of Marias on every continent, people whose nations have put their hopes in democracy and free markets but have yet to reap the benefits. We must not let their hopes fade. President Bush’s Millennium Challenge Account initiative is a challenge to America to use our great power for good, and a challenge to developing nations to empower their people to build a better future. It reflects America at its best; generous and pragmatic, compassionate and focused on results.

The millions of men, women and children who would benefit most from MCA aren’t likely to read this column, but I hope that you who have read it will support MCA’s passage by Congress. We could not make a wiser investment in prosperity, security and democracy for this new century. (The Writers is secretary of state.)

Distributed by AllAfrica Global Media. (allafrica.com)

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