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Development agency boss calls for more aid

Walter Fust says Switzerland needs to increase development aid.

(Keystone / Edi Engeler)

The head of the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation, Walter Fust, says Switzerland could and should spend more on development aid.

Fust was speaking on the sidelines of a one-day conference in the capital, Berne. The meeting discussed the World Bank's World Development Report 2000/1, which is devoted to alleviating poverty.

"We should do more especially regarding the financial volume," he told swissinfo. "We must do more in improving the quality of our work... and to empower our partners in various countries to strengthen their political will to go for poverty reduction strategies."

Switzerland's total budget for development aid amounts to SFr1.4 billion a year, or approximately 0.35 per cent of GDP.

"In international comparison we are the seventh or eighth biggest contributor, but Switzerland could do more when you look at the opportunities and especially when you look at the overriding needs," said Fust.

He said fighting poverty, a main aim of Swiss development policy, was "the overriding aim".

"For Switzerland it is important that our share of expenditures in development cooperation should be more strongly oriented to real poverty reduction programmes in our partner countries."

Governments have pledged to try to reduce extreme poverty by a half by the year 2015. Asked if he thought this was realistic, Fust said it was important to set a goal.

"For the politicians, it will not be easy to find excuses in the event of failure, so to have such a measurable objective alone is extremely important. Whether we will reach 50 per cent is another question."

He added that aid donors had yet to change their policies to properly target poverty, despite years of discussion.

"I can only hope that this is done quickly now and that the public will challenge the politicians in the North and the South to reach that objective," he added.

Switzerland's State Secretariat for Economic Affairs was also represented at the one-day meeting. The State Secretary, David Syz, said the Swiss were helping in a number of ways to try to alleviate poverty worldwide.

Among the strategies planned in the encouragement of investment from the private sector and the reduction or abolition of tariffs on certain goods from developing countries.

"This will be a burden to the Swiss economy by about SFr50 million but it will allow exports of, in particular, agricultural and textile products," he said.

He added that the issue was discussed at the recent meetings of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund in the Czech capital, Prague, and it would probably come into force at the beginning of next year.

by Robert Brookes


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