Western leaders stay away from UN Doha aid meeting

Fri Nov 28, 2008 3:19pm EST


(Adds Ban Ki-moon comments, paragraph 8)

By Amran Abocar

DOHA, Nov 28 (Reuters) - Western leaders as well as the heads of the IMF and World Bank will not attend a U.N. conference in Doha on financing for development as the developed world remains preoccupied with global financial turmoil.

The absence of key players may mean few if any commitments will be made on attaining U.N. goals of reducing poverty at a meeting set up to discuss ways to finance development through trade, aid and debt relief.

The financial crisis, which has prompted government bailouts in Europe and the United States and raised the spectre of a deep global recession, seems to have dampened the appetite for providing aid, angering developing countries and aid agencies.

"The lack of presence from heads of state does show that there's a lack of interest in rich countries to actually deal with this," said Sasja Bokkerink, head of Oxfam's delegation.

"All we can do this weekend is to give a loud cry to the world to say 'you should be here and you should be dealing with the problem of finding resources for development'," she told Reuters.

The meeting runs from Nov. 29 to Dec. 2 in Qatar's capital and is unrelated to the World Trade Organisation's Doha round.

The only Western leader expected to attend is French President Nicolas Sarkozy. International Monetary Fund Managing Director Dominique Strauss-Kahn and World Bank President Robert Zoellick cited scheduling conflicts.

"Of course, we hoped that the more high level delegations would be represented, that might have been much better," Ban Ki-moon, U.N. secretary-general, told reporters, noting that the Group of 20 rich nations and key developing states was represented by Sarkozy, who holds the presidency of the EU.

The U.N. aid groups fear the financial crisis will curb political will to deliver development dollars while providing a reason for some states to renege on previous commitments as they fight an economic downturn and rising unemployment at home.

That would leave poor countries to face the "tsunamis of the financial meltdown and economic recession", on top of existing development issues, one official said on Friday.



MAKE SACRIFICES

According to World Bank estimates, 40 million people will be dragged into poverty in 2009 as a result of the global financial crisis and related economic meltdown.

This month, the United Nations and its partners asked for a record $7 billion for humanitarian assistance projects in 2009.

A U.N. official said on Friday the credit crunch should not be used as an excuse to ignore the developing world, despite the economic pain being felt by wealthy nations.

"They have to make a sacrifice, after all we are not asking for charity," Miguel d'Escoto Brockmann, a Nicaraguan diplomat and U.N. General Assembly president, told Reuters.

"People around the world are paying the consequences of erroneous decisions taken because of the greed of some of the most developed countries. The wealthy nations owe it to the poorer nations," he said.

With some developed nations already in the grip of recession -- and others on the precipice -- there are suggestions that emerging economies, such as the oil-producing Gulf Arab states as well as China and India, should play a bigger role.

U.N. officials hope the conference will harden up general commitments by donors in Monterrey, Mexico, in 2002.

However, early talks on a draft document had already run into difficulties, according to one Western government delegate.

"On specific and detailed things, I don't believe there will be agreement," added a Brazilian official who asked not to be identified. "But in the general political context, all this participation can be useful. Lots of previous truths now have shown not to be the truth any more -- free markets and self-regulation and all those things, they don't work any more." (Editing by Louise Ireland)

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