WASHINGTON — President Bush, urging new help for Africa before an international meeting focused on its problems, said Thursday he wants to double aid to the troubled continent over five years.
The increase includes initiatives to battle malaria, provide legal protection for women and education to girls. The aid plans impressed some advocacy groups, even though they said most of the doubling would come from already-pledged money.
"Across Africa, people who were preparing to die are now preparing to live, and America is playing a role in so many of those miracles," Bush said in a wide-ranging speech.
Bush is preparing to attend a meeting next week in Scotland of major industrial democracies and Russia. The summit host, British Prime Minister Tony Blair, has made Africa a top item for discussion.
‘The world must take action’
He said that in Scotland, he will urge other nations and private foundations to help fight malaria in Africa as well.
“The world must take action now,” he said.
Bush's initiatives go along with $674 million in emergency famine relief announced this month and an agreement on Africa debt relief. They help the president blunt criticism of his rejection of Blair's proposal for summit countries to increase aid to Africa to 0.7 percent of their gross national product.
Bush says agreeing to Blair's plan is not necessary because aid has tripled during his presidency, though the United States gives far less as a proportion of national income than most other industrialized nations.
National security adviser Stephen Hadley said Bush's new proposal would raise U.S. assistance to Africa to $8.6 billion in 2010, from $4.3 billion in 2004.
Those figures include aid that is channeled through organizations such as the World Bank.
The Rev. David Beckmann, president of Bread for the World, said Bush's promise would be achieved mainly by offering debt relief and fulfilling past commitments.
But Beckmann, whose Washington-based organization lobbies to end hunger, said that level of aid would make "the U.S. a serious partner in the global effort to reduce poverty in Africa."
That, he said, "should be a plus for how people around the world view the United States."
Chad Dobson, policy director for the charity Oxfam America, hoped the announcement would mark the beginning of a much larger U.S. commitment. He praised it as creating "the momentum that is needed" going into the Scotland meeting.
Critics also dispute Bush's claim that assistance has tripled on his watch. They say his administration undercounts what was spent in the Clinton years and overcounts that spent during his presidency.
A Brookings Institution study this week says that in 2000, the last year of the Clinton administration, total spending on Africa aid was $2.3 billion. The total for 2004, the last completed year of the Bush administration, was $3.4 billion, when aid channeled through multilateral groups is excluded, or just over a 50 percent increase. Much of the increase was in emergency food aid.
Sudan ‘genocide’ condemned
Bush again termed the violence in Sudan's Darfur region, where civilians are being slaughtered, a "genocide."
He urged South Africa and other African nations to step up the pressure on Zimbabwe's president, Robert Mugabe, about human rights abuses in his country.
"Next door to you is a person who is destroying a country because of bad policy and it's not right," Bush said in an interview with foreign reporters to preview the Scotland meeting.
"The nations in the neighborhood must be strong."
Bush proposes more to fight malaria
In his speech, the president proposed increasing spending to $1.2 billion to cut the death rate from malaria in 15 African nations in half by 2010. One million people die from the mosquito-borne disease every year around the world, and it is one of the top killers in Africa. Bush requested $58 million to fight malaria for 2006, down from his $61 million request for 2005.
“In the overwhelming majority of cases the victims are less than 5 years old — their lives ended by nothing more than a mosquito bite,” Bush said.
The president also proposed spending $400 million over four years to train 500,000 teachers; provide scholarships to 300,000 young people — most of them girls; build schools; and buy textbooks in 16 countries.
Bush said he would ask Congress for $55 million over three years to improve legal protections for African women against violence and sexual abuse.
The president said his proposal would eventually cover 175 million people in at least 15 nations most affected by the disease.
‘We can lift this threat’
“We know that large-scale action can defeat this disease in whole regions and the world must take action,” Bush said. “Together we can lift this threat and defeat this fear across the African continent.”
Because the disease is highly preventable, the money would pay for approaches such as providing insecticide-treated sleeping nets, encouraging greater use of insecticides indoors and financing a new generation of anti-malarial drugs.
As resistance to other anti-malarial drugs has grown, the World Health Organization has recommended the use of artemisinin-based combination drug treatments to fight the disease. The drug is extracted from artemisia annua, more commonly known as wormwood or sagewort, a plant native to Asia.
'Welcome step,' Britain says
In London, Blair’s office called the announcement “an important and welcome step.”
“We welcome the president’s focus both on governance and democracy as well as on the key issues of girls’ education and malaria,” the statement said. “We want the G-8 to sign up to providing universal access to malaria prevention and treatment and to train millions of new teachers for Africa.”
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