Last Updated:Friday - 09/24/2010
January 24, 2005
Global development achievable
One can only be awestruck by the outpouring of financial aid for the victims of the South Asian tsunami. Almost overnight, individuals and governments of wealthy nations have donated billions upon billions of dollars.
Sadly, we need to keep asking why can there be such an overwhelming response for a natural disaster, but such a paltry response to the unspectacular grinding reality that claims a much larger death toll, but far less media attention? We need to keep asking that question, not so much to point fingers (although some finger-pointing is well in order), as to force the world to face the issues of global poverty and global development.
It is estimated, for example, that 3.1 million people died of AIDS in 2004 and that 40 million people worldwide have HIV/AIDS. According to the latest annual report of UNICEF, 10 million children under the age of five died of preventable causes last year.
We are rightly concerned about the children who were orphaned by the tsunami, but AIDS has orphaned 13 million children, most of them in sub-Saharan Africa. Another 3.6 million people died in wars during the 1990s.
The nations of the world have pledged to deal with these issues through the United Nations Millennium Development Goals, which are to be achieved by 2015. It's worth listing those goals:
The world's governments say achieving the first seven goals is primarily the responsibility of least developed countries, but that it is unlikely they will be achieved if the wealthier nations are not serious about providing the assistance required by the eighth goal. Official government aid needs to increase by $40 to $70 billion a year, a target that might seem unlikely until you compare it with global military spending of $956 billion last year. Given the outpouring of aid for tsunami victims, another $50 billion or so in development assistance doesn't seem so far-fetched after all.
The oft-stated goal for official development assistance is .7 per cent of an industrialized nation's gross national product.
In 2001, Canada gave only .22 per cent in foreign aid. Yet, other countries exceeded the .7 per cent target with Denmark, Norway and the Netherlands leading the way. Those nations gave generously without impairing their own prosperity.
The cynical say this aid does no good and that it's not apparent how it can do any good. Yet, to use one example, the least developed nations are not only starved for food, they are also starved for the technology and technical assistance that could help reduce the problems of disease, water supply and sanitation.
They also need aid that is not tied to serving the desires of special economic interest groups in donor nations. In 2001, 68 per cent of the aid Canada gave was tied aid; in Norway, only one per cent was tied aid. We have a choice.
Poorer nations also need Western governments to end export subsidies to domestic food producers and to provide producers in developing nations with access to their markets. Already, millions of tonnes of rice are being shipped to Sri Lanka as food aid at the same time that country is experiencing its largest-ever rice harvest. Just as the tsunami devastated Sri Lanka's fishing industry so Western rice exports may devastate the country's agriculture industry.
The UN's Millennium Development Goals are an achievable objective. People are willing to give and will demand that their governments give when they see a need that must be met.
People should keep writing cheques for tsunami relief, but should accompany those cheques with letters demanding that governments meet the Millennium Development Goals.
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