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New unity for humanitarian groups. Private US organizations plan merger to channel aid to third world

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CARE. Save the Children. Oxfam America. Overseas Education Fund. These four groups are examples of private and voluntary organizations (PVOs) that channel their energy into helping third-world people. They bring food to famine victims in Northern Africa and work with refugees in Southeast Asia. Rural housewives in El Salvador established a tomato-processing cooperative with the help of a nonprofit agency. Student exchange programs between developing countries and the United States are sponsored by another.

Until now, these agencies have been allied under two umbrella organizations: the American Council of Voluntary Agencies in Foreign Service and Private Agencies in International Development. Now the two organizations are set to merge, after more than a year of talks and planning. The new organization, which does not have a name yet, will enable PVOs to speak with one voice on development and aid issues, to share information, and to mix the best of the two organizations, say those involved in the merger.

These nonprofit, nongovernmental agencies are playing an increasingly important role in foreign aid from the United States. This year PVOs will receive $286 million from the US Agency for International Development (AID) - a sum that comprises more than 14 percent of its foreign-aid budget. They also receive funding from the US Agriculture and State Departments. Private donations to some 160 organizations registered with AID totaled more than $1 billion in 1983. Though some PVOs have been questioned in the past on how their dollars are spent, they are considered to be very cost-effective - both by the US government and the general public.

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