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During his election campaign earlier this year, president elect Barack Obama pledged to double US foreign assistance to $50 billion by 2012. But that was before America’s economic crisis hit, and spread. Bill Gates is worried that the crisis has changed people’s minds about how much aid America can afford.

“The crisis didn’t reduce people’s need for assistance,” said Gates in a speech at George Washington University earlier this month. Obama has promised to make development around the world a topmost priority for his administration. Gates says, “If we can stand by the president as he stands by his pledge to the poorest nations, even in the face of our own financial challenge, it will make a phenomenal statement about the kind of partner America plans to be in the world.”

“In an increasingly interdependent world,” said Obama during his campaign, “we can’t think that a genocide in Darfur has nothing to do with us. We can’t believe that HIV/AIDS devastating an entire continent somehow is separate from us. Diseases get on planes and they end up here in a matter of hours. Violence that occurs elsewhere in the world ultimately can have ramifications for our national security.”

More than ending poverty and disease, though, Gates would like to see an end to the dependence of poorer nations on the wealthier. Through technological advances and innovations in education, he’s see this as a real possibility if richer nations don’t give up now.

“We can’t flinch during this downturn,” says Gates. “If you look at the stock market, business activity or budget deficits, things are dark. But if you consider our capacities and our opportunities, our passion and vision, the outlook is bright.”

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