US lawmaker dismayed at cut in AIDS funding for India

May 15th, 2008 - 12:58 pm ICT by admin  

By Arun Kumar
Washington, May 15 (IANS) A senior US lawmaker has expressed dismay that the administration has cut funding for HIV/AIDS to India, while pouring much of its $2 billion 2009 South Asia aid to Pakistan and Afghanistan. Describing India as “a giant sea of relative tranquillity surrounded by chaos and instability”, Democrat Gary L. Ackerman Wednesday noted that “India has experienced enormous economic growth in recent years”.

“But it still has three-quarters of a billion people who live on less than a dollar a day and faces serious public health problems like the threat of HIV/AIDS and a lack of potable water,” he said presiding over a House panel hearing.

“And even though India is growing stronger economically, I am still dismayed that the administration chose to cut funding for HIV/AIDS,” he said at the hearing on ‘US Assistance to South Asia: Is There a Strategy To Go With All That Money?’

“While I don’t think that countries should receive our assistance indefinitely, I do think we run the risk of undoing progress already made by cutting assistance prematurely,” said Ackerman, chairman of House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on South Asia.

“Lawyers, guns and money. Each one is necessary but in different degrees in different countries; each is insufficient by itself,” he said. “Without a strategy to bind them together they are only means without an end.”

Appearing before the panel, Richard Boucher, assistant secretary of state for South and Central Asian Affairs, acknowledged that much of the administration’s $2 billion dollar request for South Asian states “remains concentrated in Afghanistan and Pakistan, which are key to regional stability”.

In Pakistan, Boucher said the administration’s 2009 base request of $300 million and an additional $100 million requested in the 2009 bridge supplemental will continue to support Pakistan’s security force modernisation and enhance the country’s counter-insurgency and counter-terrorism capabilities.

Describing South Asia as “arguably the place from which America faces the greatest terrorist threat”, Ackerman accused the US administration of failure to meet its national security goals to destroy the terrorist threat and close the safe haven in Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA).

“It was in Afghanistan that Al Qaeda plotted and carried out the attacks of Sep 11. It is in the tribal areas of Pakistan where Al Qaeda and the Taliban have reconstituted themselves and from where they attack our forces, as well as those of both Afghanistan and Pakistan.

“Yet since the beginning of the year there has been a series of reports all of which suggest the United States has no overall strategy for dealing with Afghanistan, Pakistan or the terrorist threat the emanates from both,” he said.

In the case of Pakistan, the Government Accountability Office found that “the United States has not met its national security goals to destroy the terrorist threat and close the safe haven in Pakistan’s FATA region”, Ackerman noted.

In India, Boucher said, the US continued “to strengthen our partnership by helping the Indians address the health needs of their most vulnerable people, including $21 million for HIV/AIDS projects in 2009″.

He acknowledged that assistance request for India has decreased slightly in fiscal year 2009 in recognition of the continuing growth of the Indian economy and the ability of the government to fund more of these important programmes.

Mark Ward, senior deputy assistant administrator, Bureau for Asia, US Agency for International Development, said: “In India, more than 50 years of US assistance has helped India make tremendous gains.”

India has also emerged as a donor country for Afghanistan and Sudan. USAID is working with the government, the private sector and other donors to leverage approximately five dollars for every dollar of US assistance.

For example, QUEST has leveraged almost $3 million in cash and in-kind contributions to link learning with livelihoods for India’s youth. Through such alliances, the United States and India are committed to working in partnership to reach India’s development goal of halving poverty by 2015.

USAID will also focus on the poorest and most underserved segments of the population in order to combat poverty and the conditions that promote extremism, Ward said.

The FY 2009 request of $74 million is lower than FY 2008 level. USAID is phasing out programmes in which India has achieved significant capacity and where the private sector can contribute, such as economic growth and education, while continuing programmes meeting serious social needs, such as maternal-child health.

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