Thousands of government and private aid officials converge this week on the port city of Busan for a summit aimed at making sure billions of dollars in global aid money gets to the people who need it most.
The world's premier development aid forum _ the fourth of its kind since 2003 _ starts Tuesday and comes at a sensitive time for those pushing to better coordinate efforts to help the poor.
The rich countries that traditionally give aid are questioning how much they should spend amid tough domestic budget fights and fears that a European financial crisis could spread. Taxpayers are suspicious that money is being wasted on corrupt foreign governments. Aid groups, meanwhile, worry that donors will retreat from crucial programs for those living in crushing poverty.
Global heavyweights, including U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, will try to use the three-day Busan forum to argue that, despite mounting economic uncertainties, the world needs stronger aid programs with better coordination and transparency.
Aid has played an important role in allowing emerging economies to help take up the slack during a decade of sluggish growth in the West, former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who is attending the forum, wrote in a recent Washington Post opinion piece.
"Leaders of emerging economies must ensure that they are able to attract high-quality, sustainable investment; that the rules are clear and followed; and that they work together to remove regional trade barriers," Blair said. "But the rich world has a role in opening up its markets and ensuring that global trade rules are fair."
In recent years, growing powers like China and Brazil have stepped up development aid, even as the West struggles. These newer donors are being pressed to make sure their aid is linked to protection of the rule of law and good governance.
The forum, which was last held in 2008, will also take up the so-called Millennium Development Goals adopted by the United Nations in 2000 to cut extreme poverty in half by 2015. Progress has been slow.
With the target date for the goals less than four years away, "the urgency of achieving strong, shared and sustainable growth and decent work in developing countries is paramount," according to a draft of the forum's final document. "The world stands at a critical juncture in global development."
The United States says the appearance in Busan by Clinton, who will give a speech Wednesday, marks the first time a secretary of state has participated in such an aid conference. U.S. officials call the visit a reflection of her commitment to the idea that smart development aid can benefit U.S. security and economic objectives.
South Korea, which has emerged from abject poverty and the destruction of the Korean War into one of Asia's most dynamic economies, is being promoted as an international aid success story.
"As a country that has successfully transitioned from destitution to a developed nation, Korea is especially well positioned to bridge longtime donors and new actors on the one hand, and donors and recipients on the other," The Korea Herald said in an editorial.
Critics are also gathering in Busan to draw attention to what they see as broken promises and to press for stronger commitments.
Jeremy Hobbs, executive director of Oxfam International aid agency, wrote in a New York Times op-ed piece that donor nations in Busan are "seeking to revise specific commitments they made three years ago that they would make their aid more predictable, and stop tying it to purchase of donor goods and services."
Instead of changing the rules of the game, he said, rich donors must redouble aid efforts. "This meeting will have important consequences for the world's poorest people," Hobbs said.