WASHINGTON, D.C. (MindaNews/05 Feb) — The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) will continue to support the Philippine government in attaining the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030, USAID senior deputy assistant administrator Gloria Steele said.
Steele told 10 Filipino journalists participating in the US-Philippines Bilateral Relationship Reporting Tour that they can do this by aligning their programs with the SDGs to address concerns on education, human health, biodiversity, and disaster resilience as a result of poverty.
“All of it is in support of the SDGs. I cannot think of anything we do that doesn’t align with one of the SDGs,” she told reporters on Tuesday.
World leaders adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development on September 25 to 27, 2015 during a UN Summit in New York, replacing the 15-year eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).
There are 169 targets with 230 indicators under the more comprehensive 17 SDGs, which officially came into force on January 1, 2016.
The SDGs include: no poverty; zero hunger; good health and well-being; quality education; gender equality; clean water and sanitation; affordable and clean energy; decent growth and economic growth; industry, innovation and infrastructure; reduced inequalities; sustainable cities and communities; responsible consumption and production; climate action; life below water; life on land; peace; justice and strong institutions; and partnerships for the goals.
Steele, USAID Mission Director for the Philippines from 2010 to 2015, said the US Government allotted between P110 and P112 million a year in the Philippines to mobilize development projects that focused on addressing issues of good governance, development in Mindanao, and resilience during calamities.
She added that they intend to achieve a kind of “partnership for growth with equity” in that more Filipinos will be able to feel the benefits of development this time around.
Non-political, no conditions
Steele maintained that USAID’s projects in the Philippines have remained to be non-political and with no conditions.
She said USAID continues working with partners in the Philippines such as the local government units (LGUs) and civil society organizations despite President Rodrigo Duterte’s tirades against the US government and the financial aid it has extended to the country.
“Our partners in government and private sector have continued to be our partners. We continue to have programs with them and no one has asked us to discontinue. We continue to work together,” she said.
Steele added that no request to discontinue USAID assistance has been made by the Philippine government.
She assured the USAID would stay away from politics as she emphasized that the “world will never meet the goals if it was politicized.”
“What we try to do is to try to find out how we can help address this by working with civil society, etc. address the range of issues from corruption, poverty, civil society strengthening to human rights issues,” she said.
She said USAID programs in the Philippines are needs-based.
“USAID is not a conditioned assistance. We work with the Philippine government and the communities and universities based on what the needs are. We do not condition our assistance,” she said.
There are ongoing talks between USAID and officials from the Philippine government on what projects they want to be funded, Steele added.
Steele also emphasized the need to focus on addressing the health concerns of the Filipinos, more particularly in addressing tuberculosis and maternal and child care issues.
Based on MDG report released on May 10, 2016 by the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA), the country fell short of its target on halving the prevalence rate on tuberculosis (TB) and the maternal mortality ratio between 1990 and 2015.
“Health is a very important feature of our program in the Philippines because without healthy population, you can’t have productive labor and the participation of parties is going to be uneven if people don’t have access to health,” she said.
She said that the both TB and maternal deaths have remained to be the most difficult challenging as both stemmed from poverty issue.
“The Philippines is one of the high burdened TB countries in the world. Unfortunately, it continues to be a problem and, of course, TB as you are well aware of is a poverty issue,” she said. “Maternal health continues to be the focus; continues to be one of the difficult ones. Most of the reasons for mothers dying for giving birth have been addressed – mothers giving birth at home. One of our biggest push is to give birth in the facility because mothers give birth at home, they die of hemorrhage,” she said.
More development engines
To effectively address poverty, Steele said they want more “engines of growth” like Manila and Makati spread all throughout the country.
“We are working in cities, making the city grow so the rural areas around it will grow, too. All the areas around Manila are growing because Manila and Makati are bringing about growth. They were the engines of growth. So, we thought we would create engines outside of the Manila area,” she said.
She added that they want the effect of development be more inclusive, which means the economic growth of the country must be felt by ordinary Filipinos.
“Going back to what we saw that when the GDP grew very fast – the second fastest in the region – the equitable distribution was not there, and so trying to remind us that equity is important and continuing focus education, of course, and most of our programs are still the same,” she said.
Steele said Mindanao has remained an area of focus for USAID program.
“We are working with both the LGUs and communities, working with the youth in order to get them feel more involved and part of society because we felt that was one way of trying to counter insurgency. Feel more aligned with the society, and with government, and with communities.
She said that they are working with civil society groups who engage the youth to make them feel more a part of society in most of the conflict-affected areas in Mindanao.
She said that they have so far assisted over 200,000 youth in several communities in terms of leadership programs and training for job employment. (Antonio L. Colina IV / MindaNews)