Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Aid For Africa

Today, Tony Blair met with Bush to press the United States to buy into a British debt-relief plan for struggling African economies. The British plan basically involves (1) the relief of existing debt and (2) additional aid via a new international organization that would raise money by borrowing against pledges from developed countries. Overall, it would reduce debt and increase African aid spending from $25 billion a year to $50 billion a year by 2015.

When first presented the British plan, the Bush administration rejected it, claiming some nonsense about it being incongruent with the Congressional appropriations process. Today, however, the Brits and Americans signaled that they appear to be close to reaching some sort of African aid plan (an additional $670 million in U.S. spending on famine relief and some sort of debt relief).

Last year, the United States about $1 billion on aid to Africa, an amount that included both funds to fight AIDs and development funds (set to go up though even without the Blair pressure). In 2004, the total amount of U.S. discretionary spending was $787 billion. Overall U.S. foreign aid totaled about $20 billion. In other words, U.S. aid to Africa in 2004 was about 0.1% of total U.S. discretionary spending and 5% of overall American foreign aid spending. Overall, Africans make up about 13% (800 million) of the world's population. In 36 African nations, anywhere from 22% to 86% of the population lives below the poverty line. There are 54 countries in Africa. This widescale poverty is the principal reason why the child mortality rate in Africa is 160 per 1000 births, while the child mortality rate is about 20 per 1000 births in Europe.

In 2004, the US spent $70 billion on the war in Iraq (that is for one year, total spending is significantly higher); a recent Washington Post poll showed that 6 in 10 Americans think it was not worth fighting the Iraq War. Bush has been pushing for a $12 billion increase in NASA funding over the next five years to begin a program to go back to the moon, and eventually Mars.

In 2005, budget bills sought $100,000 in funding for the Tiger Woods foundation (he clearly needed the government help having only made $286,000 when he came in third at this past weekend's "The Memorial" golf tournament); $1 million for the B.B. King Museum foundation; $150,000 for the Coca Cola Science Center; and $1.7 million for the University of Missouri to research shiitake mushroom cultivation.

The problem with budgeting for more, meaningful African aid is that (1) it may help people who would directly benefit from and appreciate the expenditure, and (2) it is for an insufficiently absurd purpose. Perhaps, Zambia (with an estimated 86% of its population living below the poverty line) can wriggle some of that space money for development projects if it agrees to have some of its citizens man the mission to Mars?


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