Bill Gates: Development Assistance Must Continue Despite Global Economic Downturn

Bill Gates issued an appeal to policymakers to support foreign aid that tackles public health and poverty challenges in the developing world. Gates, writing in the the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’s annual letter today, highlighted the importance of foreign aid in global development and raising living standards in the world’s poorest countries.

The letter acknowledged that the global economic and political climate puts foreign aid expenditures under pressure, but warned that a cut in these funds could have severe implications for populations struggling to pull themselves out of poverty:

The world faces a clear choice. If we invest relatively modest amounts, many more poor farmers will be able to feed their families. If we don’t, one in seven people will continue living needlessly on the edge of starvation. My annual letter this year is an argument for making the choice to keep on helping extremely poor people build self-sufficiency.

Gates argues that investment in poor farmers can “increase their productivity so they can feed themselves and their families,” and “contribute to global food security.” The past fifty years has marked dramatic improvements in poverty reduction — global poverty levels have dropped from 40 percent to 15 percent — but Gates is concerned that the historic improvements could slow if funding for irrigation and agricultural research dry up:


We can be more innovative about delivering solutions that already exist to the farmers who need them. Knowledge about managing soil and tools like drip irrigation can help poor farmers grow more food today. We can also discover new approaches and create new tools to fundamentally transform farmers’ lives. But we won’t advance if we don’t continue to fund agricultural innovation, and I am very worried about where those funds will come from in the current economic and political climate.

The Gates Foundation — which has committed more than $25 billion [PDF] in grants since its inception in 1994 — has been an outspoken supporter of government funding of global public health and poverty reduction programs. Gates’s letter emphasized that development assistance programs “has a significant impact on people’s lives” and “modest investments in the poorest make a huge difference.”