Foreign Aid FAQs – #5 “Foreign aid fuels overpopulation”

Foreign Aid FAQs – #5 “Foreign aid fuels overpopulation”

Concerns about overpopulation, or the ‘population explosion’ as it’s sometimes called, are widespread at the moment. The logic surrounding these concerns is understandable – it seems as if there aren’t enough resources to go around in developing countries, therefore sharing them out amongst more people is only going to make the problem worse.

From this perspective, it appears that overseas aid is fuelling the problem of overpopulation by ‘artificially’ keeping people alive whose environment can’t support them, who then go on to have even more children whose environment can’t support them, and so on.

However, aid spending is actually helping to reduce the number of children being born per family rather than increasing it.

It’s important to understand why people in some developing countries tend to have lots of children. Because there is little or no welfare or pension provision in these countries, people have to rely on their children to look after them if they become too sick or old to work. Because so many children die before they reach adulthood, these parents need to have lots of children to guarantee that enough of them will reach adulthood to be able to look after their parents. For them, having lots of children is both an economic burden and an economic necessity.

The way to encourage people living in such countries to have fewer children is not simply to tell them not to have as many babies. By improving child health and economic security, foreign aid is helping to remove the incentives to have so many children.

The UK went through a similar process in its history. During the 18th century around 4-6 children were born per woman but only 2 of these survived to adulthood. As healthcare and living standards improved, fewer children died and there was therefore less of an incentive for families to have lots of children, leading to the stable birth rate the UK has today. Present-day developing countries have been able to achieve the same results in a fraction of the time. For example, 7 children were born per woman in Bangladesh in 1970. By 2012 that figure had dropped to 2.2, the level required for a stable population.[1]

By helping developing countries to move through the same process that the UK did in previous centuries, and which Bangladesh did between 1970 and 2012, foreign aid is not fuelling population growth but is actually helping to slow it down.

[1] data.worldbank.org/indicator/SP.DYN.TFRT.IN?


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Rio 2016: Trouble in Paradise?

Rio 2016: Trouble in Paradise?

The continued spread of the Zika virus along with political and economic instability has spawned numerous questions about the 2016 Olympic games. Here, Adam Grech examines the challenges Brazil faces as the host nation, as well as whether the Games should be postponed.

Peter Burgess/Creative Commons License
Peter Burgess/Creative Commons License

On the 5th of August, the opening ceremonies of the 2016 Summer Olympic Games will commence in Brazil. From its Christ the Redeemer statue to the beautiful beaches that make up the city’s coastline, Rio is internationally known as a city of magnificence and marvel. This year, however, Rio de Janeiro and Brazil itself have undergone an intense level of turmoil. While under normal circumstances the host nation of the Olympic Games would propel itself to the forefront of the global conversation, this year, disease, poor living conditions, and political scandal have brought Brazil headlines for all the wrong reasons. With the Games fast approaching and many urging them to be halted, we are left to contemplate the consequences of the festivities for both Brazil, as well as the rest of the world, and whether or not their postponement would be in the best interest for all.

The Zika Virus and Global Health

For many travelers and athletes alike, the threat of contracting the Zika virus while in Brazil has been the catalyst for reconsidering attending the Games. Many competitors who were expected make the trip to Rio, including NBA star Stephen Curry, have announced they will not be attending out of concerns for their health, and more are expected to follow. The virus itself, which is transmitted primarily via the bite of mosquitos, has spread rapidly across the Western Hemisphere and can cause severe birth defects for the children of those infected. Brazil, located in the center of the epidemic, has been one of the nations most impacted by the virus with over one million infected since the beginning of the outbreak in 2015. Although the Games are to occur during Brazil’s winter months, which may mitigate the transmission of the virus, some have argued that the influx of 500,000 foreign visitors could have a troublesome global health impact, potentially accelerating its spread.  Should the virus diffuse to North America and Europe during their summer months, the warmer temperatures and increased mosquito populations could lead to greater transmission rates. Despite health professionals being split on the possible consequences of the Games continuation, it is safe to say that the level of exposure to the virus by those coming to Brazil will not ease its spread, and we are now forced to ask ourselves whether the risk of further transmission is worth confronting directly.

The Cost for Brazil

In order to prepare for the Games, Brazil will likely spend upwards of $13 billion USD. Despite the possible benefits of hosting the Olympics, the extreme cost could greatly harm the people of Brazil in the long term. With much of the Olympic budget going towards the improvement and construction of sporting structures for the Games, there has been a severe neglect of the needs of the local population. With an economy in the midst of a recession, many public services, particularly local hospitals, have experienced large budget cutbacks, and further funding of the Games will likely continue to drain funds from public services. Additionally, with widespread government corruption and the impeachment trial of President Dilma Rousseff dominating Brazil’s political landscape, stability within the state is uncertain during a critical time where significant decisions regarding the country’s future are going to be made. The combination of these problems has led to a difficult road ahead for the Brazilian people. While a delay of the Games would cost the Brazilian government their significant investment in the events, it would allow for a focus on domestic issues that have been plaguing the country, and provide the best hope for a prosperous future for Brazil.

Alobos Life/Creative Commons License
Alobos Life/Creative Commons License

Too Little Too Late?

While some speculate whether Zika alone may merit the postponement or cancelation of the Games, the combination of the considerable health risks involved and Brazil’s recent domestic troubles do. Despite this however, government officials insist that the Games will not be postponed. With the possibility of a global spread of the Zika virus, as well as severe economic and political instability, the 2016 Games could prove to be disastrously costly for all parties involved. Although the hosting of the Games could provide a number of benefits to Brazil, the considerable costs shouldered by the state’s people outweigh many of these potential gains, and have been largely ignored by the parties involved. Though it may not be the outcome desired, a deferment of the Games would allow Brazil the opportunity to focus on the rebuilding of state stability, further inhibit the spread of the Zika virus, and would be the best course of action for all.


The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Development in Action.

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Where private foundations stand in global health governance?

Where private foundations stand in global health governance?

Bridget Jeanne addresses the complex position private foundations are in within global health, and how their soft power may possibly supersede the influence states such as the United Kingdom and United Sates in shaping how the governance of global health.

Twenty-seven of the world’s wealthiest private foundations, with assets collectively valued at 360 billion USD give 15 billion annually to philanthropic causes, with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF) leading the list with their contribution of 2.6 billion USD. Private foundations contributing to global health is not new (the Rockefeller Foundation was established in 1913 and the Ford Foundation in 1936) but with the overwhelming fiscal power of the BMGF since 2000, it has increased their soft power by ten-fold in influencing what and how global health issues are engaged with. Most significantly to date, the BMGF’s contribution to international vaccine alliance GAVI tops donations from nations including the U.S. and the United Kingdom in 2015.

It is clear at this point that the financial prowess of private foundations are formidable but what makes them unique to global health governance today is the soft power they exert. Private Foundations like the BMGF and the Clinton Foundation are divided from conventional politics and build upon a business-orientated framework. They are not subject to popular elections nor bounded to state subscription to international agreements between states (and state-centric political navigation), and fundamentally operate as businesses. The foundations’ gargantuan fiscal power in association with their independence from conventional politics have propelled them to become household names in the global health cause.

Chatham House/Creative Commons License
Chatham House/Creative Commons License

As trade and migration becomes travels further distances, health in global governance simultaneously rises in priority. Globalisation has puts states in a stressful position of making it necessary to contribute to altruistic causes to culminate in good public image and complying with regional and global organisations such as the World Health Organisation (WHO) and United Nations (UN) while seeking to fulfill their people’s demands. States in lower-socioeconomic positions find it increasingly harder to involve themselves in global health politics because of weak health care systems, populations suffering from high mortality rates and undermined voices at the global political table. It is difficult for states to establish for themselves an unadulterated altruistic front without hinting at a self-centric agenda.

These unclear agendas are where private foundations thrive and dominate global health governance, displacing an era when states led the discussions. Extending from fiscally-stable companies, these foundations are able to bring to global health the fiscal capacity and should they have hidden agendas, their founders wield powerful public images that mask the agendas well. Criticisms of these private foundations are often isolated within a small community thus, difficult to permeate the public sphere. At just 48, Bill Gates announced that he would be prioritising his focus towards the BMGF shifting away from Microsoft, encapsulating the Gates with an altruistic image. Altruism has become an important factor in building public image in the past decade to detract the neoliberal capitalism market, which has undergone strong public criticism in recent years.

In evading public scrutiny, private foundations are afforded greater autonomy is how they shape the global health agenda by attaching strict conditionalities to their financial contributions. After the U.S., the BMGF is the second largest donor to WHO. While the BMGF’s donations are undeniably useful, their contributions are “specified” and can only be utilised for issues decided by the foundation, inadvertently limiting WHO’s capacity in allocating resources in the best possible manner. This could arguably be due to a distrust of the organisations to do just to the funds provided but as we will observe, the science and technology centered approach of private foundations result in a neo-colonial power structure that not only undermines states but also displaces smaller foundations and charities.

Jules Antonio/Creative Commons License
Jules Antonio/Creative Commons License

Private foundations predominantly stem from families with massive fortunes established in businesses which thrive on science and technology consumerism – BMGF from Microsoft, Ford Foundation from Ford Motor Company and Rockefeller Foundation from Standard Oil. Their success in their respective industries informally make them experts of field and so when the BMGF and Clinton Foundation’s joint venture AGRA (‘Alliance for Green Revolution in Africa’) say that “the current food system is not capable of delivering good nutrition to all” and only through “using market-oriented approaches” will ensure nutritious food (Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, 2016), we believe them. As the BMGF invests heavily in multiple platforms to promote investment in African agriculture, it hinders a critical analysis of their methods.

These foundations are without doubt, have redefined what it means to govern global health essentially transforming the platform into a market and more critical analysis needs to be done to clearly distinguish their capacity in shaping global health governance.

 

 

 

 

 


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The Politics of Band Aid

The Politics of Band Aid

Does the backlash against Band-Aid centre attention upon the politics of celebrity activism? Charlotte Fraser looks at the role it has in detracting attention away from broader, structural and long-term factors which have contributed to the Ebola crisis

Band Aid is a charitable enterprise which brings celebrity artists together to record music and send proceeds raised by sales of the tracks to combat humanitarian crises. Traditionally fronted and organised by Bob Geldof, Band Aid has come together multiple times over the last 30 years, has attracted some major names in the music industry and has raised billions in aid.  In November 2014, the 4th reincarnation of the original Band Aid group from 1984 released Band Aid 30 in order to raise money for the Ebola crisis in Africa. Geldof presented the campaign to the public as “the most anti-human disease” but, with the public’s help, as a combatable problem, “we can stop it, and we will stop it.”

©Matthias Muehlbradt/Creative Commons license
©Matthias Muehlbradt/Creative Commons license

Band Aid 30 has elicited criticism and galvanised debates across media platforms. Whereas past releases of Band Aid singles passed with relatively little controversy, this current one has unleashed a debate about Band Aid and its effects. Critics argue Band Aid and its lyrics are patronising and perpetuate a singular image of Africa. Others focus on celebrity responses and their reasons for refusing to participate in the record. Lilly Allen, Adele, Fuse ODG among others have openly announced their turning down of participating in the record and even Emeli Sande has noted her dissatisfaction with the lyrics and has admitted that her edits were rejected for the final version.

This debate on the politics of Band Aid opens a space for alternative perspectives on the nature of international aid and counters some generalised perceptions of Africa. Indeed, Africa is a diverse continent with some of the world’s fastest growing economies and should not be singularly represented through the lens of poverty and destitution. However, for all the merits of the backlash against Band Aid, it has largely been overtaken by two opposing trends.

The trend towards collectivism

Critics note that Band Aid is in danger of perpetuating damaging binary structures of “us” and “them”. This ‘othering’ is a relic from colonialism whereby the ‘civilised’ Westerners went to educate and save the, non-western, ‘others’ of non-Western societies. This myopic stance sustains perceptions of Africa as somehow below Western civilisation. Such a simple differentiation leaves no room for a multiplicity of voices. It is reflected in the less-than-nuanced lyrics of the Band Aid song, and although it would be myopic to boil down a broader problem of power relations to one song, there is a danger that these lyrics reflect and perpetuate damaging and misconceived perceptions of Africa. This is an important consideration and is parodied for example in the Radi-Aid, Africa for Norway satirical video.

The trend towards hyper-individualisation

However, there is an additional element to this which needs to be teased out. Whilst on the one hand the concept of “us” suggests some kind of commonality and unity, the response to Ebola through Band Aid demonstrates a simultaneous yet converse  trend towards hyper individualisation.

As long as the response to Ebola remains centred on the actions of a few individuals, the effect will be that Band Aid becomes more about the politics of charity and celebrity activism than efforts to  combat the disease. Thus, criticism and counter-criticism concerning the politics of Band Aid actually serves to focus attention on the West, rather than what is, or is not, being done on the ground to combat Ebola. For example, much attention has been centred on Adele, her refusal to participate in Band Aid and instead to quietly contribute money to the appeal. The media frames this as a singular response to a very complex problem when it is widely agreed that combating Ebola requires a coordinated response at an international level. The danger with the politics of Band Aid debate is that it has the effect of centring the response to the Ebola crisis on a few individuals.

The broader problem with this trend towards hyper-individualisation is that it presents Band Aid as a panacea, when it really is a plaster to cure a few short-term problems without engaging in serious and nuanced debate about why the outbreak developed into the crisis it now is. Furthermore, it allows a sense of altruism for those artists and the people who buy the single allaying the ‘white man’s burden’.

The distraction of Band Aid

The reasons are far more complex and long-term than discussions around who has sung for Band Aid, really engage with. As Harman shows, the health systems of countries suffering under the current Ebola outbreak and their problems with containing it can partly be explained by a lack of government investment in public health infrastructure or heath surveillance.

©DFID - UK Department for International Development/Creative Commons license
©DFID – UK Department for International Development/Creative Commons license

The reasons for this failure should be explored and rectified. Is it governmental incompetence? Or perhaps the sheer number of actors such as NGOs and bilateral aid agencies playing a role in national strategic plans? A lack of funding and flexibility to respond to needs on the ground, enhanced by the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) prioritisation of HIV/AIDS, malaria and reducing child mortality? In truth it is probably a mixture of all these factors, and more.

These factors all points towards a recognition of long-term, structural problems which have contributed to the current crisis. There is a very real danger that the debate surrounding Band Aid presents this Ebola outbreak as a one-off, short-term problem that can be funded and solved; it does not encourage engagement in the broader issues of international politics. And it does not encourage thinking around more nuanced, thought-provoking questions as to why Ebola has escalated to the problem it currently is.

Band Aid is any fundraisers dream and it is raising money for a highly worthwhile cause. There is, however, a need to engage with the debates that Band Aid opens up to ensure that the attention remains upon the real issues, rather than on the politics of charity and celebrity activism.


The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Development in Action.

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Reflections from the 19th International AIDS Conference, Washington 2012

This year the International AIDS Conference took place in Washington DC. Photo by Glyn Lowe Photoworks/Creative Commons

Following President Obama’s decision to lift the US travel ban on people with HIV, Western attitudes towards AIDS are improving. DiA writer Katie Simkins reports from this year’s International AIDS Conference in Washington, DC. Keep reading →


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Live Positive, love positive: HIV and the right to marriage

Melava+ matchmakes people living with HIV. Photo by Prasad Yadav

DiA volunteer Lydia Greenaway reflects on the stigma faced by people with HIV in India and a remarkable programme in Pune, where she has spent two months volunteering.

There are a number of human rights issues that concern people living with HIV, including the right to marriage and reproduction. With rife misinformation and misconceptions about the virus, many people fear HIV, and believe that a person with the virus should not be allowed to marry or have children. Sometimes attitudes go so far as to think that people with HIV should not be allowed in public areas, use public toilets or attend public education, often stemming from unfounded fears that the virus can be spread through touching or sharing food.

Keep reading →


The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Development in Action.

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World Sight Day: The Fight for Sight

World Sight Day – c.Orbis Flying Eye Hospital

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An estimated 284 million people the world over are visually impaired. In order to mark Thursday’s World Sight Day 2011, Sarah Marsh looks at the danger that sight-related diseases pose to some of the world’s poorest people. Sarah is a freelance writer currently studying MA Newspaper Journalism at City University.

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The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Development in Action.

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