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Sunday, 3 February, 2002, 00:56 GMT
Towards a fairer world
Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates (left) and former Mexican President Ernesto Zedillo
Gates said health spending was a key issue
David Schepp

The attacks of 11 September have been viewed by some as the start of a sea change among western nations on how to deal with poverty in developing nations.

But while many western business leaders and politicians now recognise there is a need to increase aid to help alleviate poverty, there remains the conundrum of how to get taxpayers to pay for it.

"To get the size of increase that's really required here we have to have grassroots support," said Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates, during a session of the World Economic Forum in New York.

It takes more than enlightened politicians, he said, we also need to get voters to elect politicians who support global equity.

Mr Gates was joined on the panel by former Mexican President Ernesto Zedillo, pop singer Bono and US Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill.

Alleviating poverty

"We could spend a long time speaking about the altruistic, the ethical, the moral reasons for providing aid from rich countries to poor countries," Mr Zedillo said.

"But nowadays, it is important to express a self-interest reason for providing development assistance."

We will have better economies and a safer world but we need more taxpayers' money from donor countries, he said.

But it takes more than aid, Mr Zedillo said. "We need rich countries to open their markets to poor countries' exports," Mr Zedillo said.

'Shameful subsidies'

He said it was time for the US, Europe and Japan to dismantle "shameful" agricultural and industrial protectionism and to open their markets.

"That alone will give us $150bn in [additional income] for developing countries," he said.

"The question is not whether globalisation has been good or bad," Mr Zedillo said. Rather, it is a question of why there are those who don't share anything who have been left behind and have not enjoyed any of the benefits of globalisation.

Mr Zedillo said the reason many people in poor countries get left behind is because they are not free. These people lack education, nutrition, healthcare and sometimes basic human and political rights.

How much aid?

For his part, Secretary O'Neill said the question of the amount of aid is the wrong one.

Bono
Bono: Focus on HIV
"For too long we have measured our compassion in the inputs," he said, referring to the 0.7% target that has been set as the percentage of gross domestic product (GDP) rich countries should give in aid to developing nations.

"How much money we spend is not the issue," Mr O'Neill said. "How fast we raise every human being's living standard to our own, that's the question."

Citing his 13 years of experience at Alcoa, the world's number one maker of aluminium, Secretary O'Neill said his travels in 36 countries have given him firsthand knowledge of the kind of poverty known in developing nations.

"I know what it's like to see babies born in the dust, that have no hope," Mr O'Neill said.

Despite the hardships facing the poor, he said there are universal concepts among all human beings, including the desire to be treated with dignity and respect, the need for worthwhile work and the hope that someone in the world will notice it.

The question of Aids

In tandem with his appearance at the World Economic Forum, Mr Gates, through his philanthropic organisation, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, announced a $50m grant to prevent the transmission of HIV.

"Health spending should be dramatically increased because we know it works," Mr Gates said in a written statement.

Mr Gates was joined by U2 lead singer Bono in asking for increased spending on health care by the developing world.

On a recent trip to Africa, Bono said he met 25 Aids workers, themselves infected with the virus.

"It was a sinking feeling, as I realised what they already worked out - that they could not afford the $1 a day to keep themselves alive," he said.

"Each one of them had a death sentence on their head."

Bono said the developed world cannot afford to let those spreading the word about HIV/Aids die.

"Even in cold, clinical terms," Bono said, "it indeed might be more expensive to the developed world to let them die."

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