Bush at International Development Summit Urges Continued Foreign Assistance in Face of Global Economic Crisis
President Bush on Tuesday at a White House summit on international development said that despite the current global economic crisis, the U.S. should not cut back on assistance to low-income countries, the Washington Post reports. "During times of economic crisis, some may be tempted to turn inward -- focusing on our problems here at home, while ignoring our interests around the world" -- Bush said, adding, "This would be a serious mistake. America is committed, and America must stay committed, to international development for reasons that remain true regardless of the ebb and flow of the markets."
The Post reports that assistance from Western countries to developing began to wane even before the beginning of the current crisis. According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the Bush administration, "which has garnered accolades for dramatic increases in U.S. international aid programs," reduced its foreign aid by 3.5% in 2007 to $21.7 billion, the Post reports. David Beckmann, president of Bread for the World, said, "Developing countries have been making real progress, so this is a real setback," adding, "The one good piece of good news from the last eight years is that the world has made real progress against poverty, and the U.S. has been quite good in this area" (Eggen/Faiola, Washington Post, 10/22).
During his summit speech, Bush highlighted examples of U.S. foreign assistance under his administration, which has provided more foreign assistance than at any time during the past 50 years. During the Bush administration, the U.S. has supported HIV/AIDS treatment for nearly 1.7 million people in sub-Saharan Africa and tens of thousands more worldwide. In addition, the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief has provided 6.6 million HIV-positive people worldwide with care and prevented 200,000 cases of mother-to-child HIV transmission (Riechmann, AP/Google.com, 10/21).
Mark Dybul, the U.S. global AIDS coordinator who administers PEPFAR, said that continued foreign assistance is necessary, particularly because HIV/AIDS has hampered development in many countries. Dybul said, "HIV/AIDS is actually somewhat unique in development when you talk about disease anyway. Most diseases kill young and old, whether it's cancer or heart disease. HIV/AIDS uniquely infects and kills 15- to 50-year-old people." He added, "That means it's knocking out a generation of the most productive and reproductive segment of society. Most people actually have a misperception that HIV is a disease of the very poor. It is not. It's actually a disease of people who have climbed the first couple of rungs on the socio-economic ladder." According to Dybul, unless foreign assistance successfully targets HIV/AIDS, there will be setbacks in terms of development. Dybul said that PEPFAR hopes the economic crisis will not affect the amount of aid it is able to provide, adding, "If we do not maintain an emphasis on global development, on ensuring a stable economic and political future for the world, that risks the United States. So development is not just a humanitarian exercise, it's a self-interested exercise and now is not the time to be looking inward. Now is the time to be looking outward to ensure that we have a long-term, stable economic and political future" (DeCapua, VOA News, 10/21).
The Post reports that few people involved in foreign assistance think HIV/AIDS funding in Africa will be reduced considering bipartisan support for recent legislation that allocated $50 billion for programs over the next five years. In addition, presidential candidates Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Barack Obama (D-Ill.) have suggested that the financial crisis would not curtail their plans for foreign aid assistance, according to the Post (Washington Post, 10/22).
The summit brought together about 500 representatives of nations that receive U.S. aid, faith-based organizations, and private, public and nongovernmental leaders worldwide. Among those in attendance included Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Liberia President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and musician Bob Geldof (Riechmann, AP/Minneapolis Star Tribune, 10/21).