The Ebola outbreak in 2014 in West Africa caused me to pull off my bookshelf Laurie Garrett’s The Coming Plague: Newly Emerging Diseases in a World Out of Balance and to write the chapter on Disease. Chapter 7 of The Coming Plague deals with how aid money has been spent. “Donors’ monetary contributions to poor nations were all too often linked to prestigious showpieces: hydroelectric dams, international airports, university complexes, tertiary care hospitals. Usually ignored were community-based projects, such as schools, medical clinics, skills training programs, or public health campaigns. Worse yet, donors preferred one-shot investments, and disappeared for the long-haul maintenance of their high-profile efforts; even the dams, airports, and massive construction projects soon took on a shoddy, potentially dangerous reality under their previously polished veneers.”

A third of the budget was eaten up by recurrent costs
“Lacking the foreign exchange to purchase replacement parts, hire expertise, or carry out routine maintenance, the poor countries had no choice but to let cracks go unchecked in their dams, watch helplessly as the tarmacs of their runways deteriorated, and use staircases when the elevators of their fancy office buildings broke down. Over a third of a typical developing country budget was eaten up by recurrent costs, while donors insisted on funding only new, prestigious programs.”

Cycles of ever-greater dependency and debt
“Critics argued that acceptance of loans and aid from multinational corporations and lending agencies led to cycles of ever-greater dependency and debt. Poor nations lost out in two ways: they were compelled to purchase all equipment and expertise from the richer countries, and whatever products they, in turn, produced had to be sold back to those same wealthy-nation interests at prices set by the purchasers.”

A transfer of wealth from the poor nations to the rich
These aid/assistance policies, led to a transfer of wealth from the poor nations to the rich and the shocking statistic that in 1960, the richest one-fifth of the world’s population had 70% of global wealth. By 1990, their share had grown to 80%. The poorest one-fifth saw their wealth drop from 2.5% to 1.4% over the same period. There are myriads of new diseases awaiting the opportunity to emerge in conditions of poverty, squalor and starvation. AIDS and Ebola are just the forerunner of what we can expect in the future unless we invest in poor people, their living conditions and close the gap between excessive wealth and excessive poverty. This was what the Millennium Development Goals was all about and is the subject of the chapter on Development.

The United States is spending 0.16% of its income on development assistance
In the International Herald Tribune of September 25, 2008 there was an article on the fast-fading world of good intentions in which we were reminded that world leaders pledged, at the turn of the Millennium, to cutting extreme global poverty in half with a 2005 pledge of assistance of $130 billion by the year 2010. “Aid from the world’s developed countries fell by almost 13% between 2005 and 2007 – to under $104 billion, after inflation. The aggregate aid budget of the most developed nations amounts to 0.28% of their gross national income, woefully below the target of 0.7% agreed by world leaders in 2002. The United States, shamefully, is at the bottom of the list, spending 0.16% of its income on development assistance.”

The $700 billion bailout plan and the struggle over outsize pay
In the same issue of the International Herald Tribune, there were also articles on the $700 billion bailout plan for the financial system and the bitter struggle over outsize pay. $700 billion given without batting an eyelid to the financial failures, but no petty cash to honor the pledge of fighting the war on poverty. Plenty of money for the super-rich to enjoy outrageous salaries, but not a dime to spare for those on a dollar a day.

Be generous in prosperity
Never has the adage ‘Be generous in prosperity’ been more appropriate than to our civilization. During the fifty-year period 1950 -2000 more wealth was created by the industrial nations than the world has ever seen. Yet all the rich nations could do was rob the poor of even the basic needs for life and increase the gap between the rich and the poor even further. While such indifference continues, the fall of our civilization is a foregone conclusion and is the basis of the chapter on Indifference.

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