Bill Gates breaking myths on poverty


The annual letter of the Bill & Mellinda Gates Foundation is an excellent start for this year in our commitment to reduce poverty in a country like Cambodia through the means of education. In “3 Myths that Block Progress for the Poor”, Gates explains how some preconceptions reduce the capacity of supporting poor communities to overcome poverty. The first myth is that poor countries remain poor, the second is that foreign aid is a big waste and the last one is that saving lives leads to overpopulation. 

Although Cambodia is facing many problems in its actual development such as administrative corruption and a foreign aid dependency, it is true that many things have changed during the last 30 years in a country that was physically and morally destroyed by wars and violence. The situation in 1999 is real different of what we have today, even if the Cambodian development has many critics, many of them with good reasons. In 1999 Cambodia lacks several infrastructures such as roads, electricity and other services. In 2014 we can say that still much to do, but the country has grown among its many difficulties.

Gates says to this:

“In 1960, almost all of the global economy was in the West. Per capita income in the United States was about $15,000 a year. (That’s income per person, so $60,000 a year for a family of four.) Across Asia, Africa, and Latin America, incomes per person were far lower. Brazil: $1,982. China: $928. Botswana: $383. And so on. (…) The global picture of poverty has been completely redrawn in my lifetime. Per-person incomes in Turkey and Chile are where the United States level was in 1960. Malaysia is nearly there, as is Gabon. And that no-man’s-land between rich and poor countries has been filled in by China, India, Brazil, and others. Since 1960, China’s real income per person has gone up eightfold. India’s has quadrupled, Brazil’s has almost quintupled, and the small country of Botswana, with shrewd management of its mineral resources, has seen a thirty-fold increase. There is a class of nations in the middle that barely existed 50 years ago, and it includes more than half of the world’s population.” (Gates, 2014, para, 2)

The other myth has to see with the idea that foreign aid is a big waste. “It gives political leaders an excuse to try to cut back on it—and that would mean fewer lives are saved, and more time before countries can become self-sufficient,” said Gates.

This preconception can be so deep in the general public, that even people tend to think that the amount of aid to poor countries is excessive. According to one Gates’ illustration, Americans said in a poll that they think the share of the national budget goes to aid, most of them answered that it was about 25%. When tasked how much government should spend, they said that 10%. Reality is far from those public ideas, explains the philanthropist: USA spends just 1 % of its national budget in aid to poor countries including vaccines, bed nets, family planning, drugs to keep people with HIV alive, etc. The USA’s one percent means about 30 billion USD per year!

It is true that aid gets a lot threats such as corruption or bureaucracy, leading to situation such as many poor people actually gets too little from what was intended for them. But it is also true that along the years, aid to poor countries has been improving its system to reach the needed in a more professional way. People are more conscious of the responsibility to ensure that aid comes to the right hands and so there is investment on a better method.

Cambodia, a country that attracts a lot aid, has several cases of corruption and mismanagement not only from the official sector but also from several NGOs and face organizations. However, all these creates attention and aid can improve its own way to fight such threats in an effective way.

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