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To fight poverty, take up GMOs, Microsoft boss tells African govts

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By KEVIN J KELLEY

Posted  Saturday, February 9  2013 at  20:40

In Summary

  • Rated by Forbes magazine as the world’s second-richest person (behind Mexican investor Carlos Slim), Bill Gates has amassed a fortune estimated at $61 billion.
  • Together with his wife Melinda the couple set up the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation that supports initiatives in education, world health and population. So far, his foundation has contributed $25 billion towards poverty fighting efforts.
  • The couple have said they intend for their foundation to give away its remaining $36 billion in assets — a sum roughly equal to the total yearly value of the goods and services produced in Kenya.
  • In his latest assessment of global anti-poverty efforts issued last week, Gates cites “amazing progress” towards reaching the Millennium Development Goals and expresses optimism that continued improvements will be achieved in living conditions for severely impoverished Africans.
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We fund efforts in that area. There’s satellite mapping in Nigeria, for example, so we can find out where settlements are. We use visual-recognition software that lets us see how many children are likely to be living there. That helps us tell how many polio doses might be needed and whether the vaccines are getting to all the children in a particular area.

We have also done soil-mapping in Africa that tells us about the quality of soil. And we fund the Revenue Watch Institute, an NGO that monitors how governments are spending their money.

You say you have two concerns with regard to the MDGs when the 2015 target date arrives. One is whether there will be adequate funding for whatever is put in place next, and the other is achieving broad consensus on what goals should be set for the period after 2015. What do you think should be done as a sequel to the MDGs?

The core of what we should do is update the MDGs. We should commit in the 2015-2030 period to dramatic improvements in each of the eight goals.

For example, child mortality by 2015 will almost certainly be below six million a year. It’s about 6.9 million now. And the goal of getting to three million by 2030 is achievable. You’ll have to make dramatic gains on malaria, pneumonia and diarrhoea. For maternal mortality, we should assess which countries did well and help spread those practices.

We need to consider carefully how many goals to add. People are pushing for their cause — whether it’s a particular disease, human rights or inequities — to become MDG number nine. But how many do you want to add? Potentially you could write a list of all the ills of mankind.
I’m kind of in the conservative camp with regard to the breadth of what we should take on next. We want to keep up the momentum, the level of donor co-ordination, the ability to compare countries on key metrics and all other factors that the MDGs have been phenomenally successful at creating.

How about climate change? You suggest that there may not be enough consensus on the matter to make it a new millennium goal.

Climate change is a huge problem, and it’s important to get the world working at avoiding it. But it’s different from childhood death rates [in terms of developing consensus].

The best way to avoid climate change is through research and invention. I wouldn’t want to use the same big UN consensus process in trying to address that issue.

Carbon dioxide emissions occur primarily in the US, China and other rich countries, and we should get them to agree on an approach.

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