Posted by: sean | June 9, 2005

American generosity

In today’s New York Times, Brooks tells us about his trip to Namibia (subscription required). While talking about AIDS in southern Africa, he fondly mentions American aid three times, patting the US on the back, talking about the money that the US is “pouring” into AIDS treatment in Africa.

Ironically, just yesterday, an editorial in the Times called “Crumbs for Africa” took Bush to task for finally getting around to spending the insufficient $674 million for needy countries that Congress had already approved.

Tony Blair, as host of the G-8 annual meeting, has been trying to get rich countries to double overall aid for Africa over the next 10 years. He has been doing a pretty good job getting that commitment from European nations, but Washington will have none of it. The US, along with European nations, pledged to raise its non-military foreign aid to 0.7% of annual income, but unlike the UK, Germany and France, which have all announced plans to meet this goal and countries like the Netherlands, Denmark and Norway, which have already surpassed the .07% goal, Washington currently has no plan of action for keeping this promise. The US actually gives a lower income percentage than any industrialized country in the world. Portugal, for example, is more than twice as generous as the US.

While most Americans believe that the US gives nearly a quarter of its income away to needy countries, it actually spends only 0.16%, less than 2 cents for every $100. For example, even with Bush”s new “generous” Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, the US proposes to spend only $2 billion annually on AIDS relief. This is less than half of the amount that it is expected to spend based on its economy. Compare that to the $300 billion and counting spent on the war in Iraq and the $140 billion in corporate tax cuts last year, and one can see where American priorities really are.

But it gets worse. Not only is the US amazingly stingy, but under Bush, foreign aid is tied to conservative ideology and unilateral, thus diverting aid from multilateral organizations like UNAIDS, which represent the most effective way of distributing international aid. Brooks calls these concerns “nonsense” that is “irrelevant on the ground.”

Stephen Lewis, the UN secretary-general’s special envoy for AIDS in Africa and Dr. Paul Zeitz, the executive director of the Global AIDS Alliance would beg to differ.

Add to that, the Bush administration’s focus on religious ideology over science (e.g. supporting abstinence only programs while cutting off funding to programs that promote condom use), and it’s not surprising that Uganda’s AIDS rate, which had decreased dramatically in the last ten years, seems to be flattening off and perhaps even going back up.

During a trip to that same nation in 2003, Bush stated, “We are a great nation, we’re a wealthy nation. We have a responsibility to help a neighbor in need, a brother and sister in crisis.” Given the facts, it’s somehow difficult to have much faith in such a magnanimous statement.

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