How much does policy development cost? What are the opportunity costs? And, what is your assessment of the policy development added value in that context?

The G20 and G8 meetings that have just concluded in Toronto are the premier policy development fora for international development. They meet twice a year, involving the Presidents, Prime Ministers, etc. from the 20 countries involved. This year - in addition to the focus on the continuing global economic crisis - the host Canadian government asked the countries involved to boost, with "new" money (there are questions), the strategies and financing available for maternal and child health.

There are many views about these global leader gatherings. How do they relate to the UN system that involves all countries? What is their track record on follow-through on past promises? (Not exactly a pretty picture if some reports are verified.)

But I want to look at opportunity cost. These conferences are really expensive. The security alone for the G20 and G8 cost 1 billion US dollars - for 3 days of meetings. That is a huge amount of money - and it is only a fraction of the total costs - see, for example, this coverage: Globe and Mail, Billion-dollar G20 security cost not a ‘blank cheque,’ security czar argues, May 28 2010.

So, what would 1,000 million dollars (one billion dollars) - the security costs only, so this is a minimum number - what would cost that amount of money, but in a year (instead of 3 days)? Some examples:

  • 10,000,000 (10 million) insecticide-treated bed nets to prevent malaria, a disease which causes 500 million illnesses per annum with 1 million deaths - see UN Foundation, NothingButNets.nets.
  • 50,000 dollar grants for each of 20,000 local organisations (locally initiated, locally managed, locally accountable) in Africa.
  • 1,000 USD for each of 1 million families in Africa.
  • 3,333,333 people on antiretrovirals (ARVs) to treat AIDS for one year - at 300 USD per dose - see Wikipedia: Cipla.
  • 1 million dollars into the budgets of each of 1,000 research initiatives.
  • 2,000 dollars invested in each of 5,000 community radio stations.
  • 250,000 dollar capital investments in each of 4,000 local businesses.
  • 100 million dollars to each of five of the economically poorest countries for social capital programmes along the lines of the very successful Brazilian economic model.
  • 25 million clean, safe, and reliable public water points in Africa - one for every 32 people if that many are needed - see Clean Water for Africa.

Please feel free to insert your own equation!

Of course, there are results from the G20 and G8. Present press coverage reports that over 7 billion dollars was "pledged" for maternal and child health as a result of the G20 and G8 processes. But I think that we are all now wise enough to know that this will get a little bit more nuanced, with fuzzy lines between new and existing commitments, shifting money around between budget lines, and the reality will be that the cheques are lower than the promise of the pledge. (It looks like there's a 10 billion dollar shortfall on the Gleneagles pledge related to Africa from 2005 - see, for example, - G8 countries have fallen $10B short of commitments: report, June 20 2010.) So, let's estimate that these pledges will, maybe, result in 4 billion dollars of new money for maternal and child health.

Given the comparison of how the 1 billion dollars for security at the G20 and G8 in Ontario, Canada could have been spent across programmes we know work - bednets to prevent malaria, for which there is a crying and obvious economic need; capital for local companies; and to ensure, on the basis of effectiveness and social justice, that the people most affected have a growing and prominent role in their own development - can 1 billion dollars (minimum) for a policy development meeting be justified? Is it an acceptable price? Or should we have just asked them to get on the secure version of Skype or Google Voice?

Your views?