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Broken Promises

July 12, 2010 Leave a comment

Gleneagles - Location of broken promises?

At the 2005 G8 Gleneagles Summit, the international community pledged – among other things – a $50 billion ramp up in official development assistance (ODA) to reduce poverty, foster productive governance and fight HIV/AIDS, TB and malaria in the world’s poorest countries; $25 billion was to be specifically earmarked for sub-Saharan Africa. Driven by a renewed sense of urgency to complete the Millennium Development Goals by 2015, Gleneagles represented a massive recommitment by the world powers in the fight against poverty and treatable/terminal illnesses. Now we’re five years on from those promises and staring a certain reality in face: the promises made at Gleneagles have not been fulfilled. This is obviously an expansive, convoluted and important topic that will not be done justice by a 500 word blog post; but I will try my hardest to flesh out the most important parts of this undeniably tricky situation.

The BBC ran an article this past week looking at how the Gleneagles commitments have fared in way of their fulfillment. According to the piece, the ODA commitments made at Gleneagles to sub-Sarahan Africa have only been 44% realized; only $11 billion of the $25 billion has made it to ground level. Less than 50% implementation is nothing to be proud of. Last time I checked, in fact, it was a point away from a failing grade. Now this, of course, must be qualified in a couple of ways. First, as we all so intimately know, the past three years have been marred by the newly termed “Great Recession.” Massive job losses, gargantuan governmental bailouts and austerity measures have inevitably cut into the international assistance budgets of G8 countries. This must be considered as a mitigating circumstance. Second, in the past two years, a debate over foreign aid itself has gained new traction on both sides of the Atlantic. Encapsulated most completely in Dambisa Moyo‘s Dead Aid, the question of effectiveness of simply throwing money at culturally sensitive problems – with the added problem of corrupt aid delivery channels – has struck a new cord. Is aid really helping Africa? This is another poignant and important question. I can’t come close to answering it without writing a dissertation so I will spare you. However, I can tell you this: money does provide medical treatment. We know medical treatment works. Understanding that, we come back to one number: 44%.

To be honest, I can’t claim that $11 billion is a number to scoff at; I would hope that no one could be so preposterous. But it is a disturbingly different number than $25 billion. What was the point of promising ODA at such a high level at Gleneagles? It’s level that is, and was, restricted and subjected to economic stability. Was it lip service and an attempt quell our Western guilt over the  suffering “other?” Or was it more hopeful and unintentionally misleading? I’m more inclined, hopeful even, to believe the latter. Either way, it’s unfortunately a broken promise. I’m not laying the blame on any one country or even the whole G8, rather, I’m asking you to think about the motives of ODA and the aid community on whole. Whether you think aid is working to fuel the endemic corruption in a myriad of sub-Sarahan African countries or you believe in the comprehensive development pedagogy of Partners in Health, it is important to remember that this is all about saving people’s lives.

Yes, this is a sticky and torturous situation. That cannot be stressed enough. However, I will leave you with this: at the very least – using the ARV price tag of $295 – the missing $14 billion could have bought 47,457 people triple combination HIV/AIDS therapy. That is a lot of people.