USAID chief Shah urges more focus on poor countries as Ebola spreads

U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) Administrator Rajiv Shah gestures during the announcement of the U.S. Global Development Lab to help end extreme poverty by 2030, in New York April 3, 2014. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson
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By Lesley Wroughton WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Ebola epidemic ravaging West Africa has exposed a need to help countries by applying public-private partnerships that will foster economic growth rather leave them dependent on aid, the U.S. Agency for International Development chief said on Thursday. Rajiv Shah, the administrator of USAID, said initiatives that bring together government and the private sector will also help achieve United Nations development goals of ending extreme poverty worldwide by 2030. The worst Ebola epidemic on record has exposed the weak government systems that hobble poor countries such as Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea. The disease has also spread to Senegal and Nigeria, infecting at least 5,357 people and killing 2,630 others in the region. [ President Barack Obama said this week he will send 3,000 U.S. troops to build treatment centers to tackle Ebola. USAID has also spent more than $100 million on protective gear and relief supplies to control the spread of the disease. "Those are the types of states where we need to concentrate as a developmental community and from a public-private perspective," Shah told Reuters. "Shoring up those types of places that are fragile ought to be the top priority for the development community." In 2010, Obama declared an overhaul of the way the United States applies aid, moving away from aid and dependence to a focus on spurring economic growth, which can reduce poverty and create jobs. Instead of writing checks and paying others to do the work, Shah said the United States was using financial tools and private sector investment to strengthen poor economies. To illustrate this shift, USAID will provide a $42 million bond guarantee to Dakar, the capital of Senegal, to build a marketplace for 3,500 vendors, Shah said. The investment, the first municipal bond issuance in West Africa, will also enable Dakar to collect tax revenues. "We're at an interesting time where embracing the goal of ending extreme poverty is not just a charity mission," Shah said. The growing presence of China, Africa's biggest trading partner, has expanded the field of financiers to African governments. The United States has emphasized that its interest in Africa and the developing world goes beyond natural resources to technical expertise, access to pools of capital to help drive investment in such things as power, infrastructure and agriculture. The poverty goal will be discussed on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly in New York next week. (Reporting by Lesley Wroughton, editing by G Crosse)

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