Bill Gates: Assisting the world's poor

  • Article by: BILL GATES , Special to the Washington Post
  • Updated: November 2, 2011 - 2:50 PM

Microsoft founder Bill Gates

Photo: Glen Stubbe, Star Tribune

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Fifty years ago, almost 20 million children under the age of 5 died every year. In 2010, the figure was down to 7.6 million.

This 60 percent decline in childhood deaths — reflecting advances in agriculture, education, health and sanitation — is compelling evidence of the increasing justice in our world.

But the global economic crisis is putting the long-term trend of progress at risk, as Congress' debates about the foreign-aid budget underscore.

I am giving a report Thursday to the heads of the Group of 20 governments, including President Barack Obama, suggesting creative ways for the world to continue investing in development despite fiscal constraints.

I hope three key ideas become part of congressional deliberations over the coming weeks.

First, programs funded by U.S. generosity have been a core component of this 50-year project of raising living standards around the world.

Aid is targeted to fill specific gaps in development. The most important of these gaps is innovation.

When the private sector doesn't have incentive, and poor governments don't have the money, smart aid pays for breakthrough solutions.

The green revolution that fed a billion people in the 1950s and '60s never would have happened without advanced agricultural science funded by U.S. aid.

In just the past 10 years, millions of children have been saved from diseases such as measles and whooping cough by vaccines that Americans paid for through their contribution to an organization called the GAVI Alliance.

Immunization is a great example of how aid can be effective. Thirty-six cents worth of measles vaccine protects a child for a lifetime.

Second, development isn't just good for people in poor countries; it's good for all of us. It used to be that the world was, roughly speaking, one-third rich and two-thirds poor.

Now, the number of dynamic, healthy, highly educated countries is much higher, which is a recipe for prosperity. Imagine the world economy without Brazil, China, India, Indonesia, South Korea, Mexico or Turkey.

If countries that are currently poor can feed, educate and employ their people, then over time they will contribute to the world economy.

On the supply side, they'll increase the production of key commodities such as food, keeping prices lower. On the demand side, as their citizens are more productive, they'll become important markets for trade.

But if people don't get access to basic necessities, continued suffering will lead to economic stagnation and instability.

It is, for example, not only unconscionable but also a strategic mistake to allow famine to devastate the livelihoods of millions of people in the Horn of Africa.

Third, the United States is not doing development alone. We spend about 1 percent of our total budget on aid, as do dozens of donor countries.

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