September 20, 2007

Cuba: Government, UN Seek to Boost Impact of Aid

By Patricia Grogg, IPS.

HAVANA, Sep 12 (IPS) - Cuba and the United Nations have agreed to concentrate their cooperation on five areas in the next few years, in order to avoid spreading resources too thinly, and to increase synergy between projects. U.N. aid to the island will amount to more than 100 million dollars during that period.

"The plan is to focus aid on a small number of fronts based on national policy, to increase the probability of making an impact," Susan McDade, resident coordinator of U.N. agencies in Cuba, told IPS to explain the U.N.’s new aid strategy. Last weekend, McDade and Cuban Minister for Foreign Investment and Economic Cooperation Marta Lomas signed the United Nations Development Assistance Framework (UNDAF), an agreement currently being signed in many countries.

"The U.N. has been criticised because its aid is highly dispersed, and therefore has little impact," said McDade, who also emphasised that UNDAF reaffirms the U.N. agencies’ commitment to continued cooperation, and is an opportunity for increasing aid.

The U.N. drew up the UNDAF after working with Cuban officials, who established their own development priorities. The consultation process resulted in the document, a "programmatic instrument" so broad in scope that it deserves to be taken up promptly, actively and seriously, Lomas said.

After signing the document, the Cuban minister pointed out that cooperation received by her country is regulated by Resolution 15 of 2006, which determines that aid should be basically aimed at priorities established by the government.

According to the UNDAF agreement, development aid will be directed mainly at projects on local human development, natural disasters and risks, the environment and energy, and health and food security. In addition, several of the eight U.N. Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), like promoting gender equality, cut across all of these areas.

At the Millennium Summit in 2000, the world’s governments committed themselves to halving the proportion of extremely poor and hungry people, achieving universal primary education, and reducing infant mortality by two-thirds and maternal mortality by three-quarters, by 2015, from 1990 levels.

The MDGs also include fighting the spread of HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases, ensuring environmental sustainability, and establishing a global partnership for development.

"This doesn’t mean that we won’t accept projects outside of the framework, but at the end of five years, we should be able to say that 80 or 90 percent of the cooperation has taken place within these five areas," said McDade.

The U.N. coordinator said top priority will be given to the eastern provinces of Las Tunas, Holguín, Granma, Santiago de Cuba and Guantánamo, which have lower development indices than the rest of the country, and therefore "pose greater challenges."

In her opinion, this Caribbean island nation has "excellent" prospects for achieving all of the MDGs, and in fact has already met most of them. "But at the sub-national level, there are differences between provinces, which is why the authorities and we ourselves are committed to providing aid where it is most needed," she said.

She said a new 36 million dollar project specifically aimed at improving healthcare in the fight against HIV/AIDS in the eastern provinces will soon be signed.

At the end of 2006, Cuba had 6,541 people living with HIV, the great majority of whom were men. Experts say that although the eastern region has never been among those with the highest prevalence, in recent years new outbreaks of the epidemic have been identified in several of these provinces.

McDade said that Cuba is "very serious" about using external funding effectively, and that in all UNDP projects, Cuban counterpart institutions are fully committed.

"In other words, these are joint projects. Cuba has a policy of ensuring that national inputs are part of the country’s contribution, and this is exceptional in international cooperation," she said.

The current cooperation programme (2003-2007), approved by the UNDP Executive Board in 2003, focused on creating a climate that would attract additional development resources to Cuba.

The main areas covered were strengthening national capacity for human development, including the information technology sector and the computer industry, and improving food security.

The cooperation programme also aimed at improving quality of life, with emphasis on the sectors of energy, housing and environment, and risk management in the face of natural disasters and climate change. (END/2007)

Copyright © 2007 IPS-Inter Press Service. All rights reserved.


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