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The blind perpetuating evil

WASHINGTON, D.C., Jan 17 (OW-US) - Increased military and security-related spending by wealthy Western countries for the United States-led "war on terrorism" is resulting in less money and other resources for hundreds of millions of impoverished people around the world, according to a major international development group.

In remarks Thursday to the Global Development Network conference in Cairo, Salil Shetty, executive director of London-based ActionAid, charged that the post-September 11 2001 anti-terrorist campaign was sharpening competition for increasingly scarce resources and that poor populations were losing out.

Despite U.S. President George W. Bush (news - web sites)'s pledge last year to increase aid to the world's poorest countries by 50 percent over the next two years, virtually no progress has been made in doubling development aid to US$100 billion a year to reach goals set two years ago at the United Nations (news - web sites) Millennium Summit, according to Shetty.

The goals included halving the number of people who live in absolute poverty, guaranteeing a basic education for all children, and reversing the spread of HIV (news - web sites)/AIDS (news - web sites) by the year 2015. Total annual development aid presently runs at only about $50 billion a year, while 1.2 billion people live on the equivalent of less than one dollar a day.

"There has never been a time when the gap between the stated commitments of the rich world and the resources and policies supposed to meet these aspirations has been so large," Shetty said Thursday, noting that in 2000 aid from the world's wealthiest 22 nations actually fell by more than $2 billion.

Shetty's comments were supported by other anti-poverty activists, including the executive director of Washington-based Africa Action, Salih Booker, who has warned that the conduct of the anti-terrorist campaign is strengthening what he calls "global apartheid," the widening gap between the wealthy West and many developing countries, particularly those in sub-Saharan Africa.

"AIDS is a global threat, far more devastating than international terrorism," he said, noting that the Global Fund set up last year to fight HIV/AIDS will soon run out of money due to lack of donor support. "If this were happening to white people, the response of the Western world would be far different."

UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan (news - web sites) this week also lamented that the war on terror and its current focus on the Middle East was claiming so much of the world's attention and financial resources. The AIDS epidemic, he noted, will claim far more lives this year--currently about 8,000 a day--than even a war in Iraq would "and then go on claiming more and more lives in 2004 and 2005."

At the same time, as many as 30 million people face the threat of starvation in Southern Africa and the Horn of Africa this year, according to Annan who noted that the crises there get virtually no attention from Western media which could in turn help influence budget priorities.

In the wake of September 11, the U.S. added almost $100 billion dollars to a defense budget that already surpassed those of the world's 14 next-biggest military establishments over the past year.

Although Bush has pledged to increase development aid by about 16 percent this year, on the way to a 50 percent increase two years from now, a total of $15 billion dollars by 2005 would still leave Washington the smallest per capita aid-giver among the world's 23 wealthiest donors. That amount would also fall far short of what is needed to achieve the Millennium goals or even to keep the Global AIDS Fund up and running.

Besides a failure on commitment, Shetty said the current aid crisis is worsened by the existence of "tied aid" which requires poor countries to buy goods and services from the donor country and which, in the case of some agricultural goods, for example, can be subject to such huge subsidies by donor governments that small-scale producers in low-income countries are unable to compete even at local price levels.

He called for aid to be increased, untied, and based on development rather than geopolitical needs, with better coordination among donors and more accountability to the recipients within countries relying on the funds for support in sectors such as healthcare and education.

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