The UN conference on Financing for Development takes place this weekend in Doha against the backdrop of a devastating global financial crisis.
It comes at a key moment, and one with little or no economic precedent.
Already climate change and high food and fuel prices are threatening to undo the progress that has been made towards meeting the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) agreed by 189 UN member states and 23 international organisations to tackle extreme poverty, child mortality and fighting disease.
Now the financial crisis looks set to kick the poorest countries while they are down – yet another example of the poor paying the highest price for rich countries' mistakes.
It is therefore more important than ever that we make ambitious and concrete commitments to guarantee that sufficient finance is available for tackling poverty.
And yet the latest noises coming out of the capital of Qatar are not good.
Negotiations are, at best, heading towards a reconfirmation of the broad pledges that were made at the conference’s predecessor in Monterrey, Mexico, in 2002, and at worst, towards no agreement at all.
Rich countries do not seem to share the sense of urgency that is felt so keenly in the developing world.
Most – with the notable exception of France – have not even seen fit to send their head of state to Doha.
Nevertheless, Oxfam believes that rich governments must take the opportunity of Doha to live up to their responsibilities and clean up the mess they have created.
To do this, they must first of all keep their promises to increase aid.
With recession at home, there is a risk that rich countries will be tempted to cut aid to prove their political commitment to domestic problems.
"A reference to not allowing the financial crisis to be used by rich countries as an excuse for breaking their promises on aid has now been deleted"
But given the tiny amounts of money involved as compared with rich country economies, this is, little more than playing to the gallery for political gain and at great human cost.
Cutting aid levels means less money for humanitarian crises such as those in Darfur, or less money to provide life-saving drugs for the millions living with HIV and Aids.
Rich countries have shown that they are more than capable of mobilising vast sums of money when they have the will to do so: in a matter of weeks they managed to raise $3 trillion to bailout their banks – 30 times the amount of current global aid.
But the latest version of the Doha outcome document clearly demonstrates this lack of will.
A reference to not allowing the financial crisis to be used by rich countries as an excuse for breaking their promises on aid has now been deleted.
The document does not even include a clear reconfirmation of the aid promises that were famously made by the G8 in Gleneagles in 2005: to increase aid by $50bn to $130bn a year by 2010.
A major issue that must be addressed at Doha is the inflation of aid figures.
Items such as debt cancellation, foreign student costs or expenditures on refugee immigrants are frequently counted as aid, despite the fact that they don't involve a genuine transfer of resources.
There is a similar problem when it comes to money to help poor countries adapt to and mitigate the growing impacts of climate change.
|Robert Zoellick, the president of the World Bank, will not be attending the summit
Oxfam believes that, since it is mainly industrialised nations that are responsible for climate change, it is these countries that should pay for the consequences.
Funding for climate change should be seen as compensation and yet rich nations refuse to explicitly state that this funding should not be counted as aid.
Also high on the Doha agenda will be the enormous leaking of funds from developing countries to rich countries.
Each year, up to $800 billion in capital flows out of southern countries, often through tax havens in the north.
The lion's share of this is linked not to corruption and crime, but to the tax avoidance and tax evasion practices of multinational companies.
"Transfer mispricing" - which allows multinational companies to allocate profits to sister companies just to avoid paying tax – means that the tax revenue lost to developing countries each year amounts to $160 billion.
That is more than half of the total amount the UN has estimated is needed each year to lift everyone on the planet above the extreme poverty line.
Oxfam wants this problem of corporate tax avoidance to be acknowledged and is calling for concrete measures to improve international tax co-operation to be announced in Doha.
So far, rich countries refuse to acknowledge the specific problem of corporate tax flight, attempting to link it solely to corruption and crime.
And, in spite of the fact that the current financial crisis has dramatically highlighted the need for improved transparency and enhanced international cooperation, they still refuse to commit to bold steps in this area.
IMF and World Bank reform
The economic crisis has also underlined something that had already become painfully apparent: the multilateral institutions of the 20th century are woefully unsuited to the 21st century world.
Oxfam believes that the mandates and powers of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF) should be thoroughly reviewed and reformed, and more competencies delegated to regional institutions.
"The African Union must have full membership of the G20, in the same way as the European Union"
However, it is likely that Doha will ignore the need for a radical overhaul of the boards of the bank and fund and do little more than welcome the reforms that have already been agreed – reforms that are shamefully inadequate, and which have resulted in developing countries increasing their share of votes by just two per cent.
Rich countries must this weekend recognise that strengthened international institutions should not only enhance the voices of major new economies, but should also give a stronger voice to low-income countries, including those in sub-Saharan Africa.
The African Union must, for example, have full membership of the G20, in the same way as the European Union.
The Doha conference comes at the end of what has been a devastating year for the global poor.
World Bank statistics indicate that the food crisis alone will have already pushed another 100 million people into poverty.
Now it is estimated that the global financial crisis will drag 40 million people in to poverty in 2009.
It is a time of unprecedented global challenges.
If ever there was a moment for an unprecedented global response, it is now.
Sasja Bökkerink is head of Oxfam International's delegation to the Doha-hosted UN summit on financing for development.
The views of the author are not necessarily those of Al Jazeera English.