Development Experts Decry Lack of Aid to Nations in Need

Aid to developing countries is drying up at a time when food harvests are shrinking.

At a weekend symposium here, some 120 development experts criticized richer nations for reneging on aid to curtail hunger as well as other kinds of assistance.

Since 1993, food aid has fallen by half, said Jacques Diouf, director-general of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization.

This comes at a time when per capita grain yields have declined 15 percent since the peak of 1984. Early this year, world carry-over stocks of grain fell to their lowest level in more than three decades.

In addition, the world price of corn and wheat has doubled since mid-1994, pushing these staples further beyond the reach of about 3 billion people who struggle to live on less than $3 per day. Some 800 million people today remain malnourished. And each year during the past quarter century, hunger and related diseases have on average taken the lives of 10 million people.

"The developed countries seem to think they are becoming islands and they can pull up the drawbridge on the rest of the world," says Norman Myers, a consultant based in Oxford, England.

One of the encouraging signs in the battle against hunger is the work of Muhammad Yunus of Bangladesh.

His Gameen Bank, based in Dhaka and active in 32,000 Bangladesh villages, makes need, rather than standard gauges of creditworthiness, the yardstick for lending. "We have turned the basic assumption for banking completely on its head and shown that it works," says Mr. Yunus.

Gameen Bank's default rate is about the same for commercial banks: 3 percent. The average loan is $100.

The Clinton administration has hailed the bank as a model for lending to inner-city poor, though some experts question its viability in urban areas lacking the traditional social bonds in rural Bangladesh.

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