Monday, 3 November 2014
Spending the 0.7%
In an earlier post I've welcomed David Cameron's tenacity in making sure that the Coalition stuck to its promise to reach the target of earmarking 0.7% of GDP for aid to poorer countries. A few weeks ago I was dismayed, to put it mildly, to hear a couple of relatively senior Liberal Democrats say they felt that keeping this pledge was foolish and unnecessary. Their argument seemed to be that the the Department for International Development (DFID) is now awash with cash that it doesn't know what to do with.
Well, if that is the case, then DFID needs to think a bit more proactively.
The rich world's tardy response to the Ebola epidemic is a classic example of a need that could have been met promptly but wasn't. This disease has been around since the 1970s but the rich world has done little if anything about it. Only when the developed world, and particularly the US, felt itself threatened have the alarm bells rung and preventative measure and the search for a suitable vaccine put into top gear.
Let's hope they are successful, but we must ask ourselves how many lives would have been saved and how much fear avoided if the rich world, with our vast resources, had been ready.
The current Ebola outbreak as so far killed some 5 000 people out of about some14 000 infected. Remaining within the sphere of health, tuberculosis kills some 1.7 million a year, and malaria 800 000. About one in ten of the world's population lacks access to safe water and over one in three lack adequate sanitation, which leads leads to approximately 14 000 deaths, mostly children, per day.
So there's plenty of scope for research and development in the medical area. The neo-liberals' beloved market forces won't prompt the private pharmaceutical companies to do the work, as the potential beneficiaries don't have the money to buy the products. In economics "demand," in the famous "demand and supply" paradigm, means not just wanting something, but "effective demand", is desire for something backed by the ability and willingness to pay for it. So Big Pharma concentrates instead on treatments for such as erectile dysfunction and depilation, for which there's a demand backed by money. The world's most prevalent diseases therefore present an area wide open for states with the money to step in and fill the gap.
Much the same could be argued in the spheres of education and social, physical and civic infrastructure.
To say "we" can't afford it is nonsense. Africa, with its population of 1.111 billion, has a total total GDP of $2.263 billion. The UK's total GDP is sightly larger at $2.663bn and our population is just under 64 million.
Yes, I know that more than just money is needed to solve the problems of world poverty, but lack of money is in most spheres a serious hindrance.
So still three cheers for Cameron, and Liberal Democrats in high places need to remember that it is a great principal of Liberalism that our concern for the poor and needy does not stop at the shores of this county.