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Aid for Africa Hot Topic at Davos


Problems of poverty and disease in Africa dominated discussion during the second day of the annual World Economic Forum meeting in Davos, Switzerland. Presidents, prime ministers, a rock star, and the world's richest man had much to say about the plight of the world's most distressed continent.

Former President Bill Clinton said the world needs to get real about Africa. He said what is needed is more assistance and a comprehensive strategy for how to use it.

Doubling aid, he said, is cheap - particularly when compared to the $80 billion the United States spent in just one year for the war in Iraq. Mr. Clinton dismissed critics who complain that financial aid is often wasted because of corruption. The scale of the corruption problem is so small, he said, that the critics should simply be put away in the closet.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair told the forum that Africa will be the centerpiece of the industrial nation (G8) summit he will host in Scotland in July. Mr. Blair said helping Africa is a moral issue.

"We live in a world where 300 million Africans still do not have access to safe drinking water," he said. "They are not deprived simply of the relative luxuries of clothing or shelter or electricity, but the most basic requirement of existence, fresh water. Three thousand African children under the age of five die every day, every single day-of malaria. Six thousand people die every day from AIDS."

South African President Thabo Mbeki endorsed Mr. Blair's Africa initiative and said NEPAD, the new economic partnership for African development, is a useful tool for using aid effectively.

"That because we now have in the context of NEPAD an African-wide vision of what we need to do with regard to the issues Tony [Blair] is talking about, that we must make sure that the institutions exist on the continent to actually promote a program, and in particular the regional economic units that are much more manageable," he said.

Nigerian President Olusegan Obasanjo said further debt relief is needed and that Africa must overcome civil conflict and provide peace and security so that aid money can be used effectively.

Philanthropist and businessman Bill Gates, the founder of Microsoft Corporation, said it is scandalous that poverty has resulted in the deaths of millions of Africans. Having just announced a further $750 million donation for fighting infectious diseases, Mr. Gates emphasized the need for more assistance.

"It is ironic that at the time when science is advancing we have this great resource of medical understanding, that we have allowed the AIDS epidemic to really be out of control, particularly in Africa, but more and more so in Asia as well," he said. "And we have allowed Malaria to come back. Malaria, because of drug resistance, now is killing more children and more pregnant mothers than it ever has. And yet a small application of these medical funds can come up with what I call miracle solutions."

Rock star Bono - long active in promoting debt relief for Africa - had words of praise for both Mr. Blair and Mr. Gates. But he appealed for the tone of the debate on Africa to change.

"You know, I am walking down the streets - it is beautiful Davos and people are saying well done, really good what you are doing. I love your cause, Bono," he said. "I do not think 6,000 people dying each day of a treatable diseases, AIDS, is a cause. I think it is an emergency.

The health emergency in Africa and the continent's longer-term development needs will remain high on the international agenda over the next several months.