January 25, 2010 2:00 am

Gates fears pressure on health aid

Bill Gates, one of the world's leading philanthropists, has warned that growing donor support for climate change threatens thousands of lives in the developing world by squeezing out funding for health.

The warning comes as Mr Gates steps up investment in carbon-free energy and green technology.

In an annual letter released today through the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation , the world's largest philanthropic organisation, Mr Gates expresses caution over the $100bn (€71bn, £62bn) in extra pledges by rich countries made to the developing world by 2020 at December's Copenhagen climate summit.

He wrote: "If just 1 per cent of the $100bn goal came from vaccine funding, then 700,000 more children could die from preventable diseases. In the long run, not spending on health is a bad deal for the environment because improvements in health, including voluntary family planning, lead people to have smaller families, which in turn reduces the strain on the environment."

The letter also criticises some western nations, in particular Italy which he accuses of being "uniquely stingy among European donors", for backtracking on aid commitments. He expressed "huge disappointment" that even his own personal intervention with Silvio Berlusconi, the premier, last June, failed to boost its generosity.

In an interview with the Financial Times, Mr Gates stressed that by tackling child mortality, his existing programmes were helping reduce the birth rate and cut demographic pressure, while work on improved agricultural crops that were drought resistant was

helping to deal with the consequences of global warming.

He rejected criticism that he had not followed other philanthropists by channelling some of his foundation's $34bn in assets to fight global warming, arguing that the best solution was for-profit investment in new carbon-free energy technologies.

"There's this multi-trillion dollar market and yet the investments in totally new breakthroughs are surprisingly small," Mr Gates said, adding that he had invested "tens of millions" of dollars in ventures such as enhanced nuclear power.

In his letter, Mr Gates stressed that money spent on health and agriculture - two top priorities for his foundation - was "incredibly well spent", and represents only a small proportion of aid from rich countries.

He highlighted backtracking by France and Japan on their traditional high level of support for development, and cautioned that much US aid went to reconstruction efforts in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan.

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