War money can save lives

 

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Category: International Date: 16 Mar 03


Despite the maneuvering of members of the UN Security Council, war against Iraq will probably break out by early next month.

 

What we have seen, both supporters of and protestors against war, is the awesome might of the United States of America — of its ability, nevermind the impact of the 9/11 attacks, plummeting stocks, a sluggish economy — to flex its military and economic muscle.

 

According to Colin Powell, this war will cost America US$65 billion. Most analysts are using the figure of US$95b. The costs of cajoling countries, such as Turkey and Jordan, to use their land and airspace could be as much as US$10 billion in grants, and another US$20 billion in loan guarantees. (These figures do not include the costs to the UK or Australian governments.) The cost of re-building Iraq, after the carpet bombing, vary from US$250 billion to as much as US$650 billion (if the war is longer or if oilfields are destroyed) over 10 years.

 

From the figures above and using relatively conservative estimates, this war is going to cost about US$560 billion. This averages out at US$56 billion every year for the next 10 years (the estimates for number of deaths range from 25,000-200,000).

 

What we have seen is in cases of presumed need or risk, money can be found.

 

In February 2002, the World Health Organisation released a report aimed to capture the attention of rich countries. It focussed on the costs of reducing deaths of the three most dangerous diseases in the world: HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria.

 

According to the report, the figures are:

 

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Three million people die every year from HIV/AIDS.

 

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Some 1.9 million die from TB and another million from malaria. (In other words, the population of Caricom is wiped out annually.)

 

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Each year there are about five million new HIV infections and 8.8 million new cases of TB. In the case of malaria there are 300 million new cases per year.

 

The World Health Organisation says it can cut the number of HIV/AIDS deaths by a quarter (ie, save some 750,000 lives); pretty much eradicate TB as a killer, (save 1.9 million people a year), and prevent new infections. And it can reduce malaria deaths and infection by 75 per cent, which is 750,000 people and 225 million fewer new cases. They need US$18 billion more each year to do this.

 

Currently, there are 3.35 billion cases of illness and 5.3 million deaths caused by unsafe water (diseases such as dysentery diarrhoea, cholera) each year.

 

In a release dated March 19, 1999, the UN said it would cost an additional US$17 billion a year over 10 years to give every person clean water.

 

The UNFPA’s State of the World Population 2002 report pointed out with US$21 billion a year, it could provide basic healthcare worldwide.

 

These three requests for funds total US$58 billion and promise to save about 11 million lives this year. And a WHO official states, “You don’t need to sustain these donations indefinitely. Healthy people can get themselves out of poverty.”

 

The $US58 billion for healthcare worldwide is strikingly similar to the figures being carved out of the US budget for a war and its aftermath.

 

Whether you support Bush and Blair or the French and Germans, you would have to agree on the reality that the lives of 11 million people require at least as much attention as Iraq.

 

To the US government, to anyone listening: You have proven you can mobalise money for war; will you do the same for Project “Aids,” Project “Malaria,” Project “TB,” Project “Clean Water?”

 

It would be fantastic, wouldn’t it, to see the hundreds of thousands on the streets now protesting war with their damming placards, cheering the Americans instead? And to be blessed, instead, in the prayers of the 11 million people whose lives you have saved every year.

 

Wouldn’t the money spent on these projects pump up the world economy? Wouldn’t it be an easy part of that “stimulus package” for the US economy to stipulate that all projects use American-made goods from water pumps to drugs?

 

As part of the war against terrorism, such projects would be far more effective than any bombardment, because bombing is about as effective as capital punishment. It doesn’t stop thugs or terrorists from mushrooming. You can’t catch them all by bombarding one or two countries, but you can win their hearts.

 

If none of those appeals are enough, consider real politic.

 

The moral position and goodwill that such a pledge would make must be worth a lot in day-to-day negotiations, especially if you know that you can appeal to the peoples’ support over the heads of their politicians.

 

A commitment like this would give the USA the moral authority it craves, and would underscore the leadership position it now seeks in the world. I know the chance of aid for the poor and unwell diverted to 11 million people at risk is about as possible as the USA and France changing their minds.

 

Odd world we live in. A dozen men behind closed doors, deciding who should live and who should die.

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All Articles Copyright Ira Mathur