Associated Press (10.29.03) - Wednesday, October 29, 2003
Development and AIDS officials say that $33 billion in recent
international pledges to rebuild Iraq were disproportionately
generous when compared to their donations to fight poverty and
AIDS in the poorest countries. The funding - including $20
billion from the United States - is nearly 10 times the
pledges made to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis
and Malaria - diseases that kill millions every year. At
development agencies and in poor countries, leaders worry that
the generosity shown to Iraq - a middle-income country with
major oil reserves - will erode resources for other needs.
Stephen Lewis, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan's envoy for
AIDS in Africa, called the contrasting commitments a "weird,
discordant upset in the scale of justice." Lewis said he
understands the focus on fighting terrorism, but it introduced
"a completely unconscionable distortion" of funding
priorities. "I don't deny that Iraqis are under stress and
numbers of them are dying tragically. But I am forced to point
out that more than 2 million Africans are dying of AIDS every
year, and their poverty is vastly more wretched," Lewis said.
At least 42 million people worldwide are HIV-infected, more
than 28 million of them in sub-Saharan Africa, and more than
20 million have died, according to the World Health
Organization. Iraq's population is about 25 million. President
Bush has asked Congress for $20 billion for Iraq's
reconstruction and $2 billion to fight AIDS overseas - less
than expected after a promise of $15 billion for AIDS over
five years. The US Agency for International Development's 2004
budget for Africa, the poorest continent, totals $1.3 billion.
With the right funding, WHO says, it could get 3 million more
people onto AIDS medications by 2005. But the Global Fund is
several billion dollars short of its needs, said Lewis.
Julia Taft, director of UN Development Program's crisis
prevention and recovery bureau, saw a "total disconnect"
between the amounts pledged for Iraq and those for sub-Saharan
Africa. Taft added that most donors said they would not
curtail funding other needs.
Rebuilding Iraq is crucial, President Bush has said, because a
stable, prosperous and democratic Iraq could help foster
democracy and stability throughout the Middle East - stability
that is key to the terrorism fight.