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Bill Gates' Million Africans

He's paid for 'em; he's responsible for 'em.

By Will Offensicht  |  October 8, 2007

Time magazine reports that malaria kills about 1 million people per year, mostly in Africa.  Time reports that a cure is in sight since the Gates Foundation got involved:

The most effective drug to treat the disease, naturally occurring artemisinin, is in devastatingly short supply. But last month Gates-funded scientists announced that they had created the technology to manufacture artemisinic acid synthetically. Within five years, the cost of a lifesaving supply is expected to drop from $2.40 to 25 cents.

The Gates' investment may save a million lives per year in Africa at a cost of 25 cents per life saved.

What does Mr. Gates plan to do with all the extra people?

In 1970, I rode a bus across Afghanistan with a Peace Corps worker who'd been there a year.  After I commented on people drinking from sewage ditches, he told me his boss had tried to persuade the King to let the Americans drill wells to give the people a better water supply.  "I can't do that," the King said.  "Babies have always died; my people won't blame me when babies die.  But they will blame me if there isn't enough food.  How can I feed all the babies who won't die?"

The King's concern for feeding extra babies was well founded.  On p. 204 of his book Forces of Change, (Arcade Publishing 1989) Henry Hobhouse says:

Sub-Saharan Africa increased its population by 25 per cent in the first quarter of this century; by 45 per cent in the second, and by 100 per cent in the third; in the fourth, the turn-out looks like being at least 125 per cent.  Nearly all this increase was by reason of survival of children who would previously have died. ...

But there is no food for the increased African population - 300 million of them under 15 [in 1989].  There is plenty of land.  There is enough water - at a cost.  But to grow food requires capital - simple capital, tools, seeds, animals.  This might cost no more, no less than $500 per head.  This capital does not exist in Africa and it is doubtful that the first world will provide $150 billion for that purpose.  Put another way, each sub-Sarahan born requires a matching $500 of investment in order that the child become an adult.  This is far more difficult than keeping the child alive." [emphasis added]

On p. 242, he discusses the effects of African population growth in more detail:

Disease has been very greatly reduced in East Africa.  ...  Forests have been destroyed, erosion increased, agricultural potential reduced, and inter-tribal warfare and horrors beyond imagination have become commonplace. ... In addition to massive tribal killings in both Uganda and Rwanda-Burundi, there has been serious deforestation which has threatened to affect the Nile flow.

The King of Afghanistan knew that his country couldn't afford to have too many babies survive so he turned down the offer of clean drinking water.

The Gates Foundation will be able to cure a child of malaria for 25 cents, but Mr. Hobhouse points out that it will cost $500 in extra capital investment per surviving child to grow enough food.  One million more malaria survivors per year need $500 million in start-up costs to feed themselves.  $500 only pays for setting up a farm, it does not include teaching children how to farm, roads, courts, electricity, medical care, law enforcement, or any other social costs.

The Chinese have been acutely conscious of food shortage throughout their 4,000 year recorded history.  It's hard for Americans to imagine, but over most of that time, there was essentially no technical progress.  For close to 3,000 years, there were no changes in Chinese life at all.  The Chinese were so accustomed to living without change that they had a curse, "May you live in interesting times."  The only interesting things that could possibly happen were barbarian invasion, plague, or famine.  Of the three, famine was by far the most common; Chinese always worried about getting enough to eat.

Under Chinese tradition, if you interfered in fate by saving someone's life, you had to feed him until he died.  What will Mr. Gates do with all the extra people?