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U2 star Bono: 'Drop the Debt'

Bono on the campaign to drop the debt: "If they need a voice, they've got mine"  

LONDON, England (CNN) -- A recent report to the World Health Organization suggests that eight million lives a year could be saved and billions of extra dollars generated if the world's poorest nations spent more on health care.

But according to the "Drop the Debt" organisation, these countries are trapped by the sums they have to spend on servicing debt.

U2 front man Bono has been explaining why he's lent his voice to the "Drop the Debt" campaign, and he recently spoke to CNN's Tom Bogdanowicz.

CNN: Why have you taken up the cause of health in the developing world?

Bono: I'm here because I was part of the Jubilee 2000 Drop the Debt campaign, and the issue of poverty in the poorest countries in the world is completely bound up in health and education. In fact, there's still more of the poorest countries spending more on their debts, their old debts, than on health and education.

Q: You're a rock star -- shouldn't you leave issues like health to health and government officials?

U2's Bono tells CNN's Tom Bogdanovicz that the world's poorest countries are plagued by debt repayments. (January 1)

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A: I absolutely agree with you, and I really would rather not be here in the sense that I know how absurd it is having to listen to a rock star talk about the World Health Organisation. But the truth of it is that politics and pop are very similar ... so I guess I'm the person to try and, you know, sort of try to bring in the wider public. Q: You're a rock star who has the ear of some politicians, including British Prime Minister Tony Blair. The World Health Organization is looking for some $27 billion extra in aid. What signals are you're getting? Are people prepared, are governments prepared to put out this sort of money?

A: This is again where I suppose I have to stress the importance of making this a popular issue. And how do we get the melody line of the suggestions contained in this report out to people in the real world? That's a hard thing to do. But when we do, I think it will become, I think people will be very motivated to do something about it, and if people are motivated about it, then politicians will be.

I have to say, here in London and in the United Kingdom, you have a triumvirate of people who are very committed to these issues. You've Tony Blair at the top, you have (Chancellor of the Exchequer) Gordon Brown who made a historic speech on this subject just recently at the Federal Reserve, and then (overseas aide minister) Claire Short, who I have to say is far more rock 'n' roll than I'll ever be, and between the three of them I think there's a real passion about this.

I don't think they're playing politics, this is too important to play politics about, and I think we'll get that commitment in the UK, and I think we'll get it elsewhere too. The Americans are a little slow at the moment in committing, but I think in America there's a sort of suspicion about aid, you know, because a lot of it's been wasted over the years. It's like the welfare debate, you know, in America people want to give the fishing rod, not the fish. That's precisely what this report is about, giving people the means with which they can take of themselves.

Q: You're very popular in the United States, but this sort of issue is not. Do you think the United States government is prepared to come on board?

A: I'm going to meet the secretary of the treasury of the United States in Africa, and he told me that the United States is prepared to gather around with continued support where they see progress, and I hope to be able to show them some progress. Places like Uganda, since they had their debts cancelled, have double enrolment in schools. There's been significant achievements in the last few years, I want to show him that.

I've been in Congress and in the Senate, and ... every American politician I could meet, I've met. And I have a feeling that September 11 has changed America forever. I think before, it was a continent acting like an island. I think now it is clear that you cannot be an island of prosperity in a sea of despair. And if September 11 has taught us anything, it's taught us that the world is a much more interdependent and interconnected place.

So I think the Americans will get this. And is there a better or more fitting memorial for the people who lost their lives on September 11 than to see the world significantly changed for the better? You know, not just the pursuit of justice, but the pursuit of a fairer, more inclusive world, because that actually is the route to peace.

Take the country Botswana, for instance. Forty percent HIV infection. You're in a crowded street, in a marketplace, and you look around, and nearly half the people you're standing with have a death sentence. That kind of despair, that kind of lack of hope when you can't get access to medicines to treat you, is exactly the kind of powder keg that set off Afghanistan.

The abject poverty makes people very susceptible to the likes of al Qaeda and ... so I think, if you look at Africa, there's potentially another 10 Afghanistans in Africa. Are we going to leave them the way we left Afghanistan? And is it cheaper to actually prevent the fires from happening than putting them out? I can tell you by a factor of a hundred it is.

Q: You've been involved with the campaign for debt forgiveness. Do you now think that the issue of health in the developing world is perhaps more urgent?

A: I think they're the same thing, as I was saying earlier, you know, a lot of the poorest countries are still paying more (on) servicing old debts than they are on health care and education. That's unacceptable. Health, and particularly HIV/AIDS and malaria, set back development 20 years. So there's no point in us cancelling their debts if there's no one there.

Q: What do you prefer doing, good works or making music?

A: I'd much rather be in a rehearsal room or studio making rock 'n' roll than dressing up in a suit and tie and representing the World Health Organization. I think I'm better at it, I think I'm better suited to it. But you know what -- they asked me here and I'm proud of the work I've done over the last few years on the debt campaign. And if they need a voice, they've got mine.


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