[Mb-civic] Africa--victimized by upsidedown global priorities

ean at sbcglobal.net ean at sbcglobal.net
Mon Sep 20 20:48:23 PDT 2004

Today's commentary:


ZNet Commentary
Debt, Reforms And Social Services September 20, 2004
By Mandisi  Majavu 

A study conducted by the UN estimates that 3 900 children die each day
because of dirty water or poor hygiene. In sub-Saharan Africa, it is
believed that only 58 percent of the 684 million people have clean water,
compared with an average of 79 percent for the entire developing world. 

According to the report, at least 30 percent of the region's water systems
are inoperable because of age or disrepair. The UN goal of providing
three-quarters of the population with safe drinking water by 2015 seems a
bit ambitious. 

The research report attributes Africa's slow progress to conflict,
political instability, population growth and the low priority that is
given to water and sanitation. 

One would have thought that factors like water privatisation and the $360
billion debt burden on a continent where most people live on less than $1
per day would have been high up on the list of factors that prevent
Africans from having access to clean water. 

Each year, African countries spend about $15 billion repaying debts to the
IMF and World and other creditors. Needless to say, servicing these debts
diverts money from spending on things like health care, providing citizens
with clean water, and education. It is estimated that African countries
pay $1.51 in debt service for every $1 they receive in aid.  

In June, this year, the G-8 countries agreed to provide around $31 billion
in debt relief to 41 Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC), 34 of which
are in Africa. Obviously, $ 31 billion does not in any way reduce the
debts of African countries to sustainable levels. In fact, for a very long
time activists have pointed it out that the Heavily Indebted Poor
Countries Initiative only serves the interests of creditors by continuing
to extract the maximum possible in debt repayments from the world's
poorest countries.  

Another goal that seems like a pipe-dream is the Millennium Development
Goal (MDG).  Drawn up in 1990, the MDG aim was to reduce poverty and boost
trade. However, 14 years later very little trade has been cultivated.  As
for poverty? It has increased. 

Africa's exports have dropped from 10 percent of the world's market 50
years ago to 2.7 percent today. Also, economic growth fell from 36 percent
between 1960 and 1980 (when countries exercised more control over their
economies) to minus 15 percent between 1980 and 1998. (Monbiot: Empire of

Furthermore, the fact that western trade is heavily subsidized by $1
billion a day further depresses the economic situation. 

And so, despite a wealth of natural resources, the continent is struggling
to lift its economic growth rate. African economies expanded by an
estimated 3.2 percent last year, less than half of China's rate of between
8 percent and 9 percent; while India's economy grows at between 7 percent
and 8 percent. Africa accounts for only 1.5 percent of global gross
domestic product while its share of the global population is about 13
percent. And its share of global world trade is only 2.1 percent.   

Africa's economy, which is about $600 billion, has also seen foreign
investment drop over the last year to $6 billion from $14 billion. The
IMF's and the World Bank's solution to the investment question is that in
order for the continent to achieve the foreign investment it needs, it
would have to accelerate reforms -- meaning a further liberalization of
African economies. 

It is the same reforms that have facilitated the increase of poverty
levels on the continent by 43 percent over the last decade. As things
stand, it is estimated that about 300 million Africans live in poverty,
and by 2015 that number is expected to increase by 45 million.  

Diseases are also starting to take their toll in terms of human resources.
About 6 500 Africans die each day from HIV/AIDS related illnesses, and
about 2 million people die every year from malaria. 

Since the 1980s, deaths from malaria have steadily risen in Africa, as the
disease has become resistant to the most popular treatment. Malaria alone
is the third biggest killer in the Horn of Africa and claims around 250
lives a day; while Zimbabwe, which is situated within the Southern Africa,
records an average of between 1 000 and 1 500 deaths per year. 

The aid agency, Medecins Sans Frontieres, believes the reason for such
high numbers of deaths is simply because the majority of Africans cannot
afford to pay the US$1.50 required for the Artemisinin Combination Therapy
(ACT), and most African governments cannot afford to subsidize the drugs.
The ACT is a new, more effective drug, which eradicates symptoms of
malaria within three days. 

Simply put, the ACT drugs, which were endorsed by the World Health
Organisation in 2002, cost double that of other medicines and therefore is
not widely available. 

MSF estimates that it would cost between US$ 100 million and US$ 200
million to introduce ACT treatments throughout Africa. 

What the African continent really needs is not private investment and
economic reforms, rather, African countries need to start using the
resources they have to improve health care, education, provide clean water
to Africans and feed their young children.  And not spend about $15
billion each year on repaying wealthy and powerful institutions like the
IMF and the World Bank.  

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Action is the antidote to despair.  ----Joan Baez
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