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[afro-nets] Paul Martin's 5% solution

  • From: Mizan Siddiqi <msiddiqi@voxiva.net>
  • Date: Wed, 29 Jun 2005 12:28:40 -0400

Paul Martin's 5% solution

An optimistic idea?

Mizan Siddiqi

Paul Martin's 5% solution

By Peter Singer
National Post
Monday, June 27, 2005

As the July 6 G8 summit in Gleneagles, Scotland, approaches,
Prime Minister Paul Martin is under increasing pressure to adopt
the widely embraced target of devoting 0.7% of GDP to foreign
aid. Last week, Live 8 concert promoter Bob Geldof told Martin
not to bother coming to Gleneagles if he didn't adopt the 0.7%
target. So far, Martin has played defence, arguing that it would
not be fiscally responsible for Canada, the only G8 country with
a surplus, to commit the incremental $42-billion needed over 10
years. However, the Prime Minister should switch to offence, en-
couraging the other G8 leaders to adopt his own target of devot-
ing 5% of research and development spending to technologies for
the developing world.

Life expectancies in industrialized countries like Canada are
about 80 years and rising, while in some developing countries,
especially in sub-Saharan Africa, the figure is 40 years and
falling, largely as a result of HIV. This inequity is surely the
mother of all ethical challenges. Underlying these inequities in
life expectancy are inequities in knowledge.

By the year 2015, all 191 UN member nations have agreed to meet
a set of eight objectives, known as the UN Millennium Develop-
ment Goals, related to poverty and hunger, education, gender
equality, child mortality, maternal health, HIV/AIDS and ma-
laria, environmental sustainability and global partnership. Ca-
lestous Juma, co-chair of a recent UN Task Force on the Goals
has concluded that "It is 'inconceivable' that the Millennium
Development Goals can be achieved as planned by 2015, or even
that significant gains can be made in meeting health and envi-
ronmental concerns, without a focused policy for science, tech-
nology and innovation."

In February, 2004, in his reply to the Speech from the Throne,
the Prime Minister said Canada would "bring the benefits of our
research and development to bear on the challenges faced by the
developing world, from learning technologies to environmental
and life sciences. Our long-term goal as a country should be to
devote no less than 5% of our R&D investment to a knowledge-
based approach to develop assistance for less-fortunate coun-
tries. We in Canada are rich in medical science and research. We
have a moral obligation to share our capability with those in
desperate need."

Compared with the 0.7% target, the 5% target is not only about
cash but also about knowledge. One could not call the history of
foreign aid a resounding success. Aid is vital to addressing hu-
manitarian disasters and pressing near-term humanitarian needs.
I am not arguing for a decrease in foreign aid; on the contrary
I think its position as the fastest-growing government expendi-
ture is about right. But when it comes to targets, long-term so-
lutions require knowledge.

Take for example malaria, which kills a child somewhere in the
world every 30 seconds. Which of the following solutions should
be pursued: Distribute insecticide-treated bed nets? Improve ac-
cess to existing anti-malarial drugs? Discover new drugs that
address the problem of malaria resistance? Develop a malaria
vaccine? Modify the genes of the mosquito vector that carries
the malaria parasite so it cannot do so?

All these solutions must be pursued. But as one moves down the
list, the role of scientific innovation becomes more important
than that of short-term foreign-aid disbursements. The earlier
solutions address immediate and pressing needs, while the later
ones go to the root of the problem for a more sustainable solu-
tion. Without a malaria vaccine, we will still be shipping bed
nets a decade from now.

Here is another example: Arsenic contamination of drinking water
affects an estimated 50 million people in Bangladesh in what's
probably the largest mass poisoning in world history. At the mo-
ment, arsenic is removed using water filters. But deep under-
ground there exist both bacteria that metabolize arsenic and put
it into the groundwater and other bacteria that can remove it.
Sequencing the genomes of these different bacteria could yield
new approaches to the arsenic problem. While it cost Canada mil-
lions to establish our genome sequencing centres, the additional
cost to sequence a few more bacteria is low. Without trying to
get to the bottom of the problem by sequencing the bacteria, we
will still be buying filters a decade from now.

How does a developing country such as Bangladesh become an
emerging economy like India and later an economic powerhouse
like Japan? How did Korea move from being a poor country 30
years ago to being a leader in stem cell technologies and regen-
erative medicine? How did India move this year from being an aid
recipient to an aid donor in the context of the tsunami? A key
part of the answer is science and technology innovation. Tradi-
tional foreign aid -- and the 0.7% target -- focuses primarily
on the near-term; the Prime Minister's 5% target, by harnessing
science and technology, focuses on the long-term.

The 5% target also offers long-term commercial benefits to Can-
ada and the developing world in the form of trade. Canada cannot
rely forever on resource-based exports like oil and wood. Our
strongest commodity in the long run is knowledge. By 2050, the
economy of China will surpass that of the United States. We need
now to focus on Chinese and Indian partnerships and markets --
and the one-third of world population they represent -- in our
technology sector. And as emphasized by the recent UN Commission
on Private Sector and Development co-chaired by Martin, the do-
mestic private sector in the developing world is critical for

The 0.7% target requires up to $42-billion over 10 years in ad-
dition to our current commitment to double foreign aid by 2010
from its 2001 level. Based on Canada's annual research and de-
velopment expenditures, public and private, of about $25-
billion, the 5% target requires about $1-billion per year of in-
cremental spending, or $10-billion over 10 years.

The 5% target would likely garner significant voter support in
G8 countries. Earlier this month the European Commission re-
leased a poll that revealed more than half of those surveyed
(53%) felt it was "very important" that, in 10 years time, the
developing world should be able to benefit from science and
technology (and a further 38% that it was "fairly important").
Respondents endorsed this goal more strongly than reducing eco-
nomic inequalities in Europe.

Finally, there is Canadian leadership and our role in the world.
The 0.7% target is also a Canadian invention -- from the 1969
Pearson Commission. Ironically, we are not leading today but
rather being badgered to adopt our own 36-year-old target.

The Prime Minister should move quickly to implement his 5% tar-
get in Canada, and encourage his G8 colleagues at Gleneagles to
adopt it as well. If all G8 countries did so, the total proceeds
toward science and technology innovation for the developing
world would be about $50-billion per year. And 30 years from
now, when Africa is a thriving knowledge-based economy, we will
be remembering Prime Minister Martin with the reverence now re-
served for prime minister Pearson