NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Poverty Contributes Mightily to Effects of Disease and Disaster

February 27, 2004

In spite of President Bush's $15 billion pledge to help Africa fight AIDS over the next five years, the continent will still be severely affected by other diseases, natural disasters and environmental degradation.

The cause? Poverty, says the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), the kind that grows from bad political and economic systems:

  • Half of all Africans contract malaria each year, and 2 million are affected by tuberculosis - diseases practically non-existent in the developed world.
  • In 2002, Africa experienced 15 of the 30 deadliest natural disasters that occurred worldwide.

In the face of natural disasters, the effects of poverty multiply even more. During the last ten years, 13 times more people have died per natural disaster in poor countries than in wealthy countries:

  • On December 22, 2003, an earthquake registering 6.5 on the Richter scale struck near San Luis Obisp, between Los Angeles and San Francisco; while there was extensive damage to property, only three people were killed.
  • Four days later, an earthquake of similar magnitude, 6.6 on the scale, hit near the city of Bam in Iran; the deaths are still being counted, and about 30,000 have already been confirmed.

Developed countries are not immune to natural disasters -- in 2002, the United States experienced 17 of them, including earthquakes, floods and droughts. But wealthier countries can withstand disasters and disease outbreaks far more successfully than poorer countries, due to the availability of resources to build and maintain strong buildings, medical facilities, emergency communications and means for rescue.

While aid from drug companies, governments and charities helps poor countries, they must build their own prosperity. Free markets and democracy will improve the lives of the poor more than emergency aid, says AEI.

Source: James K. Glassman, "Wealth Makes Health," The American Enterprise Institute, February 5, 2004.


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