Three Catholic MPs: John Battle, Paul Goggins and Tony Baldry, sponsored by the Parliamentary Friends of CAFOD, have just visited Washington where they met with US government officials, members of Congress and Senators dealing with development issues. USAID officials told them: "There is now more support in the United States for foreign assistance than at any time since the Marshall Plan." And the MPs found a Washington where the biggest increase in aid in a generation has been proposed and is being managed by aid sceptics who have publicly doubted the value of aid. CAFOD's Head of Policy, George Gelber, who traveled with the delegation, said: "This change has been brought about as the United States has woken up to the incalculable tragedy of HIV/AIDS in Africa and the threat of infection, illness and death on a similar scale as the pandemic moves through Eastern Europe and Asia. For the time being AIDS has an African face and it will certainly be a focus of the Millennium Challenge Account." At the same time Republican and Democrat Senators and member of Congress have joined forces to propose new debt legislation that will reduce debt service of the poorest countries to just ten per cent of government revenues - or five per cent for countries afflicted by health crises. "We were impressed by the new found sense of urgency in Washington. Development and debt relief are firmly on the political agenda", said Paul Goggins. "But there are considerable challenges ahead - not least the task of making sure that aid goes to those who need it most. If the conditions for the new funds are too tough the money won't reach the poor, but if they are not tough enough - and there is waste - this will only confirm the worst suspicions of those who have always opposed development assistance. It's a good time for DFID ministers and officials and the International Development Select Committee to work collaboratively with their American counterparts." The MPs were told that the United States valued coordination with the UK on development issues and that it will be important to for DFID to work with the administration while the MCA is still in its formative stages. The Millennium Challenge Account was announced by President Bush at the UN Financing for Development Conference in Mexico in March. By 2006 the MCA will add $5 billion a year to US development assistance.
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