Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Global Aid DOES Make A Difference

Although many people view foreign aid money as being wasteful and even damaging to societies, "aid money can and does work" as stated by Bill Gates. Gates reviewed a deeply researched book called "Getting Better: Why Global Development is Succeeding-- and How We can Improve the World Even More" written and researched by a senior economist on leave from the World Bank, Charles Kenny. Even outspoken aid critics are impressed at the case given by Kenny in "Getting Better."

In "Getting Better," Kenny acknowledges that hundreds of billions of dollars are spent in poor-low income countries and have had limited affects on income. The income gap has widened between rich and poor countries and no one really understands why. However, Kenny argues that income is not the only measure of success and may not be the most meaningful one. Kenny shows that the quality of life in some of the world's most poverty stricken countries have improved drastically over the past decades, a great deal more than people realize. In his analysis, Kenny also shows with solid data support that governments and aid agencies have played an important role in this progress.

Half a decade ago,more than half of the global population struggled to get enough food each day. By the 1990's this number drops to about 10%. But thats not all! Across the global infant mortality has decreased and life expectancy is up. In Africa, life expectancy has increased by 10 years since the 1960's. This is despite the HIV pandemic that has swept across the country.
In the 1950's less than half of of the worlds children were enrolled in primary schools. Now almost 90% are enrolled. Since 1970's literacy rates in sub-Saharan regions have doubled and civil rights have even begun to gain substantial ground in these countries.

But how is it possible that quality of life has so drastically improved while incomes have fallen? Kenny claims that new technologies and innovative ideas might play a major role. For example, eradicating smallpox costs a mere 32 cents per person infected and in just six years vaccinations against measles reduced the number of children who died by three quarters. Gains in public health can have impressive benefits at very low costs. One third of the ten million children who die in poverty ridden countries could be saved by the wider use of breast feeding, insecticide treated bed nets, and oral rehydration therapy.

These are low cost treatments with huge results. Perhaps aid hasn't effectively increased poor countries income, but it is obviously improving the quality of life of million of people. If foreign aid and development could focus on spreading such ideas and cheap technologies to poverty ridden countries, the lives of the world poor could measurably be improved.

-Gabrielle Gurian

Review of Charles Kenny's "Getting Better: Why Global Development is Succeeding-- and How We Can Improve the World Even More" by Bill Gates
To listen to the video interview go to