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#StoptheMyth: 9 More Development Myths that Block Progress for the Poor

January 21, 2014

Bill & Melinda Gates publish their co-authored Gates Annual Letter today, which this year takes on some of the biggest myths that are blocking progress for the poor. But those aren’t the only ones we’ve heard – here are nine more, complied by ONE’s policy team, that tackle popular development myths around issues like global health, energy, corruption and more.

1. Modern electricity access isn’t important for poverty alleviation and development goals

The lack of reliable energy access in sub-Saharan Africa remains one of the most critical impediments to Africa’s ability to fight poverty and build prosperity. In fact, insufficient modern electricity access is limiting growth by an estimated 2 to 5 percent of GDP per year. This lack of electricity hampers services in health and education, profoundly limits economic development, traps people in subsistence lifestyles and disproportionally affects women. Thus increasing reliable affordable electricity access is the biggest opportunity we have to help eradicate extreme poverty on the continent. -Tom Wallace, ONE energy policy manager

2.  Africa is hopelessly behind in the fight against AIDS

As we found in ONE’s AIDS report, sub-Saharan African countries have made the most progress in the fight against AIDS, with 16 nations ahead of global trends by being at or beyond the beginning of the end of AIDS. And stop saying “AIDS in Africa” because there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to the epidemic – countries across the continent are at different places in the fight against AIDS. -Anu Dathan, ONE global health researcher 

 3. People in the developing world don’t have access to clean drinking water

Two billion people gained access to improved drinking water between 1990 and 2010 – and in 2010, 89 percent of the world population had access to it. Ninety-two percent are expected to have access to it by 2015, and the Millennium Development Goal on improving access to clean drinking water was met way ahead of schedule in 2010 (instead of 2015). -Anu Dathan, ONE global health researcher 

4. Infectious diseases affect sub-Saharan Africa, while chronic diseases affect the Western world

Infectious diseases like measles, tuberculosis and even many neglected tropical diseases aren’t just Africa-specific. They’re found throughout the world, in more than a hundred countries. Recently, outbreaks of some of these diseases have been springing up in Western Europe and North America, partly due to people not being vaccinated against them. Meanwhile, chronic diseases like heart disease and diabetes affect the entire world. They’re already the leading killer in every global region except sub-Saharan Africa, and by 2030, they’ll be the leading killer there as well.  -Anu Dathan, ONE global health researcher 

5. If it wasn’t for all the aid we give, no one in the developing world would have access to AIDS treatment

While foreign aid is certainly crucial, it’s actually less than half the money that funds global AIDS programs. In 2012, for the second year in a row, low- and middle-income countries funded more than half the AIDS programs. Meanwhile, international aid has actually remained flat in recent years. And then there are countries like South Africa, home to more HIV-positive people than any other, which already funds 80 percent of the AIDS treatment and is on-track to take over full funding and management of its epidemic by 2017.  -Anu Dathan, ONE global health researcher 

6. We’re spending far too much on aid to poor countries.

Surveys show that most people drastically overestimate how much their governments spend on aid. For example, when ONE asked them to guess, Americans responded, on average, that foreign assistance amounts to 25 percent of the federal budget. Actually, developed countries actually spend just a tiny fraction of their budgets on aid. The US allocates less than 1 percent of its budget to foreign assistance programs, and in the UK, official development assistance comprises just 1.6 percent. -Catherine Blampied, ONE research and publications assistant 

7. There’s nothing we can do to stop money laundering.

ONE’s Stash the Cash campaign shows just how easy it is to launder money. All you need is a country (or state) that allows you to set up an anonymous shell company, and you can make its profits your profits! Not only is this easy to stop – by requiring that information about the owners of a companies is made public – but the effects have devastating impacts on developing countriesTell European leaders to stop phantom firms from robbing poor countries of billions. -Lauren Pfiefer, ONE transparency and accountability manager

8. People living in resource-rich countries aren’t poor.

Unfortunately, the profits countries make from exporting oil, gas and minerals are not always used to lift the citizens in those countries out of poverty. For example, the GDP per capita in Equatorial Guinea is over $24,000, yet most of the population still lives on less than $1 per day. Passing publish-what-you-pay laws that make public the payments made to governments for their natural resources can enable citizens to hold governments accountable for how they make use of the money they receive for their nation’s natural resources. Help make sure that law is enforced in the US-Lauren Pfiefer, ONE transparency and accountability manager

9. African countries don’t have the resources they need to take control of their own development.

While resource flows from donor countries and effective mechanisms like the Global Fund and GAVI are important, Africa has significantly increased tax revenues in the past decade. Now, most citizens in Africa live in countries where domestic tax revenue is more than 10 times the amount of aid their country receives. Increased tax revenues, combined with more information about the profits from natural resources, about company ownership and increased budget transparency will help citizens to ensure those resources are spent on poverty-fighting programs. -Lauren Pfiefer, ONE transparency and accountability manager

Which myth surprised you the most? Tell us in a comment below.

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