Debating IR

Probing the philosophical underpinnings of the international system and anything else of interest.

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Wednesday, March 29, 2006

If it's broke, fix it -- don't pay it to go away

After our debate, I was interested in the ONE Campaign, so I checked out the official website and perused its blog. As it turns out, there was a recent Senate victory that "added hundreds of millions of dollars to the budget to help beat AIDS and extreme poverty." Sounds great, right? However, this happened to coincide with the timing of my World Politics class discussing AIDS and extreme poverty in conjunction with foreign aid, and the assigning of The Lessons of HIV/AIDS by Laurie Garrett. This article reamed our current aid programs, noting:

"In 2004, the appropriations bill allocating money for PEPFAR stipulated that a third of the prevention and education funds had to be spent on abstinence-promoting programs, that none of the money could be spent buying sterile syringes or needles for intravenous drug users, and that faith-based organizations should receive special priority in the receipt of care and treatment funds. A more recent White House stipulation has required recipient countries and organizations to denounce prostitution... Brazil [has] recently rejected U.S. support on the grounds that it would not be possible to promote safer sexual practices among prostitutes and their clients while morally castigating them."

In other words, we might be giving aid, but we're not helping people nearly as much as we could. We have the money but we don't have the right programs, and even if we increase the funds, we're throwing money at a problem without addressing the causes and without adjusting our perspectives to fit the region we're working in. This is obvious when we put funds into programs that aren't effective (abstinence-only programs, for example).

Our debate was about increasing donations and (for some groups) specifying what organizations would actually receive funds in order to ensure that the people who needed the money would get it. However, none of us really discussed how the money would be spent or what practical effect it would have. Bono talks about what one percent really means ("One percent is the AIDS patient who gets her medicine, thanks to you"), but not what one percent is actually going to mean. Will it mean an increase in the availability of AIDS medicine? Will it mean investments in clean water and education? Or will it simply mean buying food? Obviously, this wasn't the topic of the debate, but I do feel it's important to examine what's actually being done with foreign aid -- not just to give it. If we're going to make a huge change in foreign aid, we'd be better served by making sure that the money we do spend is being used well than appropriating a lot of money to be used poorly.

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