The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation spends just over $3bn a year on development assistance: ‘There’s no way to balance a cut in a rich country’s generosity.’ Photograph: Edgar Su/Reuters
Bill Gates has warned that organisations like his are “absolutely not” prepared to plug the yawning gaps in development aid that will result from funding cuts, including those proposed by President Trump. Speaking to the Guardian ahead of the UN general assembly meeting, which opens for general debate next week, the billionaire philanthropist said simply: “There’s no way to balance a cut in [a] rich country’s generosity.”
Although it is is the world’s largest private philanthropic organisation, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, founded in 2000, spends just over $3bn (£2.25bn) a year on development assistance, Gates said, which is about one-tenth of the US aid budget and almost one-fiftieth of the global aid budget, which stands at $143bn.
“We don’t have some special stash that we keep in case some government is less generous,” he continued. “We’re spending at our maximum capacity because we know that every $1,000 we spend, we’re saving an additional life. So if net, from all governments as a whole, you get big cuts, there’s no other sector that has fair capacity to step up.”
The US is the largest global aid donor, but earlier this year, President Trump proposed cuts to the foreign aid budget of roughly 32%, including a $1bn cut to the President’s Emergency Plan for Aids Relief (Pepfar) programme, which funds HIV and Aids treatment, testing and counselling for millions of people worldwide. Gates indicated that rather than focusing on Trump, he has instead approached Congress, as well as individual members of the US government’s executive branch, to stress to key players just how vital foreign aid spending is to global health and stability.
“The uncertainty about what the US government will do remains very high,” he said, adding that funding gaps were still unknown but unlikely to be anywhere near as high as the cuts envisioned by Trump.
He pointed to key conversations he had had with the national security adviser, General HR McMaster, as well as the secretary of defence, James Mattis, regarding global security and polio: how combating the disease is affected by the stability of Pakistan and Afghanistan, and the situation in Syria.