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Sunday, April 13, 2003

What's an overriding crisis and what issue is merely a sidelight? Looking at today's headlines, you'd be sure that the source of most of consternation in today's world is in the Middle East. Weapons of mass destruction are simmering, if found. Hordes of angry fundamentalists are threatening to boil over. The conflict between Israelis and Palestinians is heating up in the background. All, to one degree or another, dominate our public life and attention.

I wonder how often we think of the destruction of AIDS, ravaging most of the continent of Africa, or of SARS, waiting impatiently in Asia to become a worldwide pandemic. What about civil war in Columbia and Nepal or economic collapse in Argentina? How aware are most of us, looking at PNN (the Pentagon News Network), that most of the crises facing America and the world are happening without around-the-clock television coverage to highlight their progress?

Some of us may remember President Bush's State of the Union pledge to dedicate funding to combat AIDS in Africa. Secretary of State Powell, before being slapped into line by the warriors, toured hospital wards in South Africa last year. Around $3 billion annually was promised to help fight the pandemic over the next five years. In comparison to the $90 billion and up estimates for the war in Iraq this year, this other number hardly seems significant. The number of dead in sub-Saharan Africa from AIDS this year is expected to total near the 2.3 million recorded dead in 2001 (the last year hard figures are available). Next time you look at the statistics onscreen of the carnage in the Gulf, try to imagine the devastation of that other number. Over 2 million parents and children were gone from the planet in one year alone. Imagine what $90 billion, or some small fraction of it would do to develop not just better health, but consequently, trade, improved economies, and goodwill worldwide.

This is not to take away from the horror of the war in Iraq, just to refocus some attention on a world that needs medical help, affordable drugs, infrastructure development, and understanding. If we want to secure our future, we better nurture our understanding of the interconnectedness of human life here and abroad.

It makes sense to remember that when it was brewing a well-trained cadre of zealous terrorists in it's mountains, the plight of Afghanistan's hungry people took precious little of our attention during the 1990's. When the developed world pays no mind to the silent troubles of the world's poor, it may be shocking to see who will fill the vacuum.

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