Wednesday, January 05, 2005

We ARE Stingy, Georgie

Nicholas Kristof points out - yes, we're helping the tsunami victims, but why the generosity only when a specific disaster strikes?

The 150,000 or so fatalities from the tsunami are well within the margin of error for estimates of the number of deaths every year from malaria. Probably two million people die annually of malaria, most of them children and most in Africa, or maybe it's three million - we don't even know.

But the bottom line is that this month and every month, more people will die of malaria (165,000 or more) and AIDS (240,000) than died in the tsunamis, and almost as many will die because of diarrhea (140,000).

Americans give 15 cents per day per person in official development assistance to poor countries. The average American spends four times that on soft drinks daily.

In 2003, the latest year for which figures are available, we increased such assistance by one-fifth, for President Bush has actually been much better about helping poor countries than President Clinton was. But as a share of our economy, our contribution still left us ranked dead last among 22 top donor countries.

We gave 15 cents for every $100 of national income to poor countries. Denmark gave 84 cents, the Netherlands gave 80 cents, Belgium gave 60 cents, France gave 41 cents, and Greece gave 21 cents (that was the lowest share, beside our own).

With America's image tarnished around the world, one of the most effective steps Mr. Bush could take to revive it would be to lead a global effort to confront an ongoing challenge like malaria. That would also give Mr. Bush more credibility by suggesting that the "culture of life" he talks about embraces not just fetuses, but also African children crying from hunger.

The best response to accusations of stinginess is not to be defensive, but to be generous. And the measure of generosity is not what you offer when the spotlight is upon you, but what you do when the spotlight moves on.

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