Obama vows `big hearted, hard headed` overseas aid plan

The US President warns world would miss ambitious 2015 anti-poverty goals.

New York: President Barack Obama unveiled a new "big-hearted, hard-headed" US foreign aid strategy, warning the world would miss ambitious 2015 anti-poverty goals if it did not change its approach.

The US Global Development Policy will seek to unleash economic growth, prioritise nations that try to improve their own lot with good governance and mandate rigorous accounting of US aid dollars.

"If the international community just keeps doing the same things, the same way, we may make some modest progress here and there, but we will miss many development goals," Obama told the UN Millennium Development Goals summit.

"With 10 years down and just five years before our development targets come due, we must do better," Obama said at a meeting assessing progress towards cutting poverty, ill-health and hunger, especially among women and children.

The new US approach to foreign aid, a year in the making after a broad policy review, will seek to harness what Obama called the "most powerful force" the world has ever known for fighting poverty -- economic growth.

"The United States is changing the way we do business," Obama said, vowing to build on the "good efforts" of his predecessor George W Bush in the area, but promised American would not abandon those hit by humanitarian disasters.

The strategy will identify countries and geographical regions where optimum conditions exist to sustain that growth, and pilot "game changing" strategies like vaccines for neglected diseases, weather-resistant seeds and clean energy.

Nations making the transition from war to peace and from authoritarianism to democracy will be ideal candidates for US support, he said, describing a more selective and concentrated approach to dispersing US donor aid.

US dollars will seek out nations that exhibit good governance, the rule of law, transparent institutions and respect for human rights, Obama said, arguing "over the long run, democracy and economic growth go hand in hand”.

Obama also argued that even in a time of global economic strife, it was vital for the developed world`s security to lift up impoverished nations.

Officials did not identify which nations or areas would see their share of US aid dollars cut, but Obama cited nations like Tanzania, Sierra Leone and Liberia, where he said progress was possible.

"We`re making it clear that we will partner with countries that are willing to take the lead," Obama told the conference, taking place with a bevy of world leaders in town for the UN General Assembly.

"The days when your development was dictated in foreign capitals must come to an end."

Obama also promised that his administration would be "big-hearted but also hard-headed" in working out exactly which programs worked, and which did not, holding both US officials and recipients of US aid to account.

Officials said that the new way of working would not include extra money over that already budgeted for foreign aid, but look for more effective ways to spend US funds.

The new approach appears to be designed to decrease the US footprint in global aid, and to concentrate American resources where they can be most effective, often in partnership with other governments and NGOs.

"No one nation can do everything, everywhere and still do it well ... we must be more selective and focus our efforts where we have the best partners and where we can have the greatest impact," Obama said.

The US President also had a message to donor nations.

"Let`s honour our respective commitments. Let`s resolve to put an end to hollow promises that are not kept, let`s commit to the same transparency that we expect of others."

Global aid agency Oxfam praises Obama for showing "bold leadership”.

"We commend his determination to hold the US accountable for keeping its development promises," said spokesman Ray Offenheiser.

"Now other world leaders must follow his example and issue plans for meeting their aid pledges and poverty targets."

Obama was speaking at the end of the three-day summit called to rejuvenate eight development targets set at the 2000 Millennium summit, aiming to be reached by 2015.

The goals set target of cutting by two-thirds the number of children who die before they are five, and reducing the number of women who die during childbirth by three quarters.

The Millennium goals also included cutting the number of people who survive on less than one dollar a day by half, halve the number of people who suffer from hunger, halt the spread of AIDS and other killer diseases, achieve universal primary education and empower women.

Bureau Report