Aids, hunger ranked top problems

The fight against HIV/Aids and malaria, eradicating hunger and promoting free trade are the most urgent problems on the planet, a panel of top economists has decided.

    Aids has killed more than 25 million people

    Eight economists, including a number of Nobel Prize winners,

    wrapped up on Saturday the week-long Copenhagen Consensus

    conference, at which they were asked to prioritise how to spend

    an imaginary extra $50 billion to improve the world.

    The panel gave the highest priority and $27 billion to

    combating HIV/Aids because of its humanitarian urgency, in

    particular in Africa.

    "Although costs are considerable, they are tiny in relation

    to what can be gained," the group said in a statement. The Aids

    virus has infected 43 million people globally and has killed

    more than 25 million.

    Hunger was ranked as the second most important problem and

    the panel wanted to spend $12 billion to fight malnourishment,

    especially among children.

    The experts were invited by Bjorn Lomborg, the Danish author

    of The Sceptical Environmentalist and director of the

    Environmental Assessment Institute think-tank who is a bete

    noire for traditional "greens" worried about global warming.

    Urgent issues

    The panel was faced with 10 challenges: Climate change,

    diseases, hunger, migration, sanitation, corruption, trade

    barriers, education, conflicts and financial instability.

    "Everyone would love to

    address all the problems if there was enough money. But as long as 

    money is a scarce resource we have to focus on where should we

    do most good first"

    Bjorn Lomborg,
    Author of "The Sceptical Environmentalist"

    It ranked 17 solutions to seven of the challenges - finding

    there was insufficient information on the other three problems.

    However, it decided to assign money only to the four most urgent

    issues.

    "That encapsulates the big dilemma. Everyone would love to

    address all the problems if there was enough money. But as long as 

    money is a scarce resource we have to focus on where should we

    do most good first," Lomborg told a news conference

    As in a parallel ranking by 80 students from 25 countries,

    the economists gave low priority to climate change, which many

    scientists say could be the most serious long-term threat to

    life on the planet.

    The students ranked the issue as number nine out of 10,

    while the economists ranked it 16 out of the 17 proposed

    solutions.

    Climate change

    "This issue is not whether climate is important but how

    timely it is to devote many resources to that at the present

    time, given these other very serious and pressing and urgent

    problems that need action," said 2002 Nobel Prize winner

    Professor Vernon Smith from George Mason University.

    Meanwhile, free trade came in at number three.

    "Trade liberalisation is globally welfare-increasing,

    especially in the developing countries, so we couldn't resist

    the temptation of putting it on the list even though it's not a

    candidate for spending money," said Professor Thomas Schelling

    from the University of Maryland.

    Dangers to the environment
    ranked low on the experts' list

    Control and treatment of malaria, believed to kill more that

    a million people a year, was ranked fourth and given $13

    billion.

    The panel did not make clear why their total overran the $50

    billion budget.

    The economists said they did not expect their list to be

    used by politicians as an answer book, but said their mission was

    to provide better and more developed information for people to

    make their own judgments.

    Some environmentalists have criticised the makeup of the

    panel, saying some of the economists were not experts in the

    fields under discussion. But

    Lomborg has defended the panel as

    even-handed.

    SOURCE: Reuters


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