Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Jeffrey Sachs lays into Canada

In his latest commentary, Jeffrey Sachs says Canada has run out of excuses for contributing 0.7 percent of their gross national product to international aid to the world's poor. Dr. Sachs says that a small increase in funding aid could save billions of African Lives.

From comes our snippet of Sachs commentary

I've been observing the recent slanging match between Prime Minister Stephen Harper and development activists, including Bono and Bob Geldof, over Canada's commitment to the world's poor. Without getting into the fine points of aid accounting, there is no doubt that Canada's aid commitments these days are rather thin.

In 2002 at a summit in Monterrey, Mexico, Canada joined the rest of the rich world in pledging to make concrete efforts to reach 0.7 per cent of GNP in official development aid. In fact, Canada's effort has stalled at around 0.3 per cent of GNP. But Canada can conveniently hide behind the United States, which weighs in at an even more miserable 0.17 per cent of GNP.

There are few places on the planet as splendid as Canada, so it's truly hard to understand how a prosperous and free people enjoying a life expectancy of more than 80 years have to work overtime to justify spending only 30 cents on each $100 of national income to help people with a life expectancy of only 40 years. Of course, everything one can say about Canada in this regard, one can say with added emphasis about the United States, which not only spends a meagre 17 cents per $100 of income on aid, but does so in the shadow of tax cuts for the rich that amount to roughly $2.50 per $100 of national income.

What is perhaps most puzzling about Canada is that there are so few political voices, from any party, championing practical approaches to tackling extreme poverty around the world. Many Canadians might fret that there is no reliable place to spend extra money, no places where the aid won't simply be ripped off by the allegedly ubiquitous "corrupt African governments." But Canadians need to understand that they could easily allocate funds to places such as Ghana, Madagascar, Mali, Senegal, and Tanzania, all with multi-party democracies, responsible and highly praised governments, and populations suffering from a lack of doctors, nurses, and safe drinking water. They could also make contributions in kind -- medicines, vaccines, seeds, fertilizers, equipment -- making the aid easier to track and harder to steal.

I've had the chance to review the development plans of these countries in considerable detail. They each have highly meritorious programs in education, malaria control, food production and much more, all programs in which Canada's money -- certainly up to 0.7 per cent of GNP -- could be very well used indeed, and easily monitored. It would be straightforward to get one or more major private-sector accounting firms to do audits on such aid, to further ensure Canada's taxpayers that the aid is indeed invested as planned. If the aid goes awry, it could be halted.

Here's another possibility. Canada could direct its increased aid to the International Red Cross and UNICEF to support their campaigns to distribute anti-malaria bed nets to Africa's children and pregnant mothers.

I've seen many children in death throes because their families (and governments) could not afford bed nets for them. I'd be ready at any moment to accompany any Canadian leaders to a rural African clinic so that they too can see children in comas, or in respiratory distress as they die of largely preventable and wholly treatable diseases. It would cost each Canadian merely $100 to fund the $3 billion required to provide comprehensive malaria control across all of Africa. Canada, on its own, could save more than one million African lives per year.

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