‘The tension is the worst of my life’: how Bill Gates remains optimistic | Bill Gates

Jhe figures are bad, progress has stalled and all the trends that had nourished the hope of a fairer world are undergoing abrupt reversals. Yet Bill Gates, who has invested billions of dollars in poverty eradication, remains “optimistic”.

“It would be terrible to turn down just because we’re getting bad grades due to unexpected setbacks,” he told the Guardian in an exclusive interview ahead of Tuesday’s release of the annual Goalkeepers report from the foundation he co-chairs.

As the UN General Assembly prepares to convene in New York next week, the report makes it clear that most of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals agreed by member countries in 2015, a “common blueprint for peace and prosperity for people and the planet,” will miss their 2030 deadline. “When we set the goals, we certainly didn’t expect anything like the pandemic,” Gates said.

“If we continue to fund development assistance properly, we will be back to where we were before the pandemic within a few years and build from there. But at best, we can say that it was a setback of three or four years. In some areas it is even worse.

“If you just look at childhood vaccination rates, the pandemic has been a huge setback,” he added. “We are back to 2009 vaccination coverage levels.”

But continued funding is essential, and Gates fears the generosity to Africa’s needs will be affected by the “costs and distraction” of the war in Ukraine. Another distraction during the Covid pandemic was that Gates, 66, became a target for conspiracy theorists.

“There have been a few instances where I’ve met people in public where they’re yelling at me that I’m putting chips in people and it’s kind of weird to see, ‘Wow, these people really exist, they’re not not just robots sending crazy messages.’

A mother waits for her child to be vaccinated against measles at a clinic in Harare, Zimbabwe. Measles, one of the most infectious diseases in the world, has been brought under control through the vaccination of children. Photograph: Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi/AP

“I think it’s starting to fade,” he said. “I hope so, it is tragic if it has made people more reluctant to trust vaccines or wear a mask where they should have.

“It was quite a phenomenon; here in the US he focused on me and Tony Fauci, and internationally it was more just me because they didn’t know who Tony was, he really missed that!

“But you know, in a way, you don’t want to make fun of it either. While that’s the only rational way to handle this, it’s a pretty serious thing. Innovations on how to get to the truth have to be as interesting as the big lie – we’re up against this in a number of areas, and I haven’t seen a solution as good as I think we’d all like in see.

In July, the Microsoft billionaire and his ex-wife Melinda French Gates announced they were injecting a further $20billion (£17.1billion) into the charitable foundation which they continue, post-divorce, to co-chair . How harmonious few members of the grand purpose-built Seattle headquarters are close enough to know, but it brought the total endowment to $70 billion and he shows no signs of faltering as an actor. major player in the fight against poverty, particularly in Africa, and increases its annual budget by 50%.

“It’s about human lives, it’s about a child surviving, it’s about giving women the opportunity to be educated and part of the economy, and it’s about people who don’t have enough to eat,” Gates said.

“Even before the pandemic, improving agriculture for Africa, giving them the best seeds possible, was grossly underfunded. Yet Africa has over 30% of children who are malnourished, meaning their brains and bodies never fully develop, and that relates to the agricultural system. Bad food doesn’t make sense because the cost of land, the cost of labor, is low, so farming should be their benefit.

“But the fact that they are facing, because of climate change, much more difficult growing conditions than ever before and that this climate change was entirely caused by the greenhouse gas emissions of the rich world… If the world is the least bit serious about climate adaptation rather than mitigation, then we would definitely fund a seed research system.

A man carries a bag with bags placed on ovens
Husks of rice are burned in a kiln to make a soil amendment from agricultural waste in Mwea, Kenya. Chemical fertilizer prices rose when the war in Ukraine started. Photograph: Thomas Mukoya/Reuters

The foundation has focused on agriculture in recent years, which has drawn criticism and controversy. Some African voices have expressed concern about having no space at the table for discussions, while small-scale farmers fear that their environmental concerns will be ignored in the push for big farming and corporate science interventions.

Gates has what has been described as an “evangelical” attitude towards gene-editing technology. “Africa needs to feed its rural people, it needs to feed its urban people, and when you have food shortages, it’s not just malnutrition and potential starvation that’s bad, you also get instability. unbelievable and it feeds into not being able to build infrastructure or run your education system.

“So for Africa, especially in the region we call the Sahel, it’s a dire situation and the only compensation for that is that we could, if we set our mind to it, make Africa self-sufficient in 15 years. “, did he declare.

“But we need to give better education to farmers, better access to fertilizers and better seeds, and when those things come together, not just for farmers but also for women farmers, then you will see huge increases in productivity. “

As the myriad of problems facing the world grows wider, it is more difficult to decide where budgets can be better spent. “Absolutely, we feel that pressure – just the war in Ukraine, you want to spend more money on defence, you want to subsidize electricity, you want to fund refugees, you want to help deal with the acute food crisis. .

“Which is somewhat different from helping the long-term productivity crisis in Africa, so the pressure on budgets, especially European budgets, is greater today than at any time. time of my life.”

But cutting health spending, he said, would be “tragic”.

“In the two key areas of health and agriculture, the impact on saving lives and creating stability is very, very dramatic.

“I wrote a note when I invested the extra $20 billion in the foundation saying, ‘I’m not doing this because the short term looks super rosy,’ and it’s true, I’m doing it because these are important issues and in the long term I’m still optimistic that the war will end, the innovation pipeline and the kind of progress that we’ve seen up until the pandemic in reducing malnutrition, reducing child mortality and getting digital bank accounts for women, will come back in. We were making progress and we can again.

“Overall it’s a very difficult situation, but we’re asking people, ‘just because it’s difficult, don’t turn away.’ It’s literally millions of lives and the very stability of those African governments who, when things go well, are able to lift their countries out of poverty and become self-sufficient.The aid overall has been very, very effective.

“In the face of all these bleak developments,” he said, “the need to invest, to get the best tools, to get back on track, is very important.

“Even if we will miss 2030, we will achieve the goals. It’s just a matter of when.

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