To commemorate the 40th anniversary of Iceland's development cooperation, 30th anniversary of the Icelandic Development Agency (ICEIDA) and tenth anniversary of the Icelandic Crisis Response Unit a symposium was held at the University of Iceland on Friday, October 21. The keynote speaker was Dr. Paul Collier, Professor of Economics and Director of the Centre for the Study of African Economies at the University of Oxford.
In his opening address, Minister for Foreign Affairs, Össur Skarphéðinsson, reminded the audience that only 40 years ago Iceland was still defined as a developing country but moved from the receiving end of development assistance to contributing from its growing wealth to more vulnerable countries abroad.
The minister pointed out the evident influence of Collier's theories on the three main pillars of Iceland's new development strategy. The pillars reflect sectors which Iceland possesses special knowledge, namely, i) the sustainable use of natural resources, ii) support to the most poor and vulnerable through education and health services and iii) peace-building and reconstruction in poor and unstable countries. Furthermore, he stressed the emphasis on gender equality in Icelandic development cooperation.
The minister recounted the good news of recent decades that: hundreds of millions of people have been pulled out of poverty; child mortality has been reduced by one-third in twenty years; primary education is available to almost all children and a billion people have been given access to clean water. These figures show that real progress has been achieved. The bad news is that much remains undone and the attention must not sway from our most vulnerable fellow humans, that Professor Collier brought such notable attention to in his book The Bottom Billion.
Minister Skarphéðinsson stressed the duties of countries like Iceland, - despite a banking collapse and other misfortunes- to come to the aid of The Bottom Billion. This sense of duty was evident in the unanimous Resolution of Parliament when it adopted, for the first time, a four-year strategy for Iceland's Development Cooperation earlier this year. With it comes a solid commitment to substantially increase Iceland‘s ODA in the coming years, to reach the UN target of 0.7 per cent of GNI in 2019. This is apparent in the new finance bill, where the increase in ODA in 2012 conforms to the parliamentary resolution.
The Minister thanked ICEIDA and its dedicated staff for having been the heart and soul of Iceland‘s development cooperation for thirty years in Iceland's bilateral partner countries in Africa, South Asia and Latin America. Then he reminded us that it was on September 10, 2001, the day before 9-11 that The Iceland Crisis Response Unit was formally created to keep our focus and action on peace and security.
Collier praised Iceland's commitment to the 0.7 % ODA target saying it “set a pretext in the context of adversity” and should encourage larger countries who are not meeting their development cooperation goals. Iceland, in his mind, is able to be heard in Africa without the baggage of colonialism and a patronizing relationship, giving the country credibility.
Another important task should be to ensure an informed public both at home and in target countries, to increase accountability, sustainability, greater transparency and fairer trade policy.
Collier pointed out, as he did in his latest book Plundered Planet, that while some natural resources are common to humanity (such as air and parts of the ocean) others lie within geographical boundaries. He emphasized the importance of mapping these resources for developing countries in order to improve their bargaining position when utilizing these resources and that the resource's rents should go to their citizens and be invested the infrastructure of developing countries.
The symposium was linked to the 100 year anniversary of the University of Iceland and whose speakers included Professor Jónína Einarsdóttir and Valgerður Jóhannsdóttir, project manager. Hermann Örn Ingólfsson, Director General for International Development Cooperation, spoke on behalf of the Ministry for Foreign Affairs.
The symposium was Chaired by Engilbert Guðmundsson, director of ICEIDA and discussions facilitated by Valgerður Sverrisdóttir, Chairman of the Council on International Development Cooperation.