The end of global poverty? An ideal whose time has come? Dr Jeffrey Sachs, world renowned macroeconomist, adviser to Kofi Annan, thinks so. His recent report (Investing in Development: A Practical Plan To Achieve The Development Goals) spells out a detailed plan in which he shows how enormous reductions in poverty, illiteracy and disease are “utterly affordable.” (http://www.unmillenniumproject.org/)
What would this ambitious task cost? It requires that rich countries double their aid to poor countries. This amounts to a tiny effort – 50 cents for every $100 dollars of the countries’ income. Five countries, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, The Netherlands and Luxembourg, have already done so. Britain, France, Finland, Spain, Ireland and Belgium have agreed to meet this goal, and others will follow. So far, the U.S. has only promised 15 cents out of every $100 dollars, the smallest percentage of major donor countries. As usual, the problem is much less one of affordability, as of political will, especially the political will of the richest and most powerful country in the world.
Nations usually act on perceived self-interest. What are the benefits? In terms of preventing disease and epidemics, the international interest is obvious. Reductions in poverty and extreme despair would reduce the prevalence of violence, civil wars, support for international crime, the movement of refugees, unwanted immigration, population growth, ecological deterioration, destruction of cultural patterns of social and family life – the list goes on and on.
Does the world care? The outpouring of help following the tsunami disaster with over 150,000 deaths shows that international empathy and help is very much alive. Jeffrey Sachs has stated that “a silent tsunami of global poverty kills more than 150,000 children EVERY MONTH from malaria alone.”
Can this global concern be translated into action? There are stirrings. British Prime Minister Tony Blair is championing increased aid to Africa. A high cabinet minister in his government, Gordon Brown, is campaigning for a Marshall Plan for Africa.
Jeffrey Sachs emphasizes that many leaders he has met with would much prefer to use their own resources, but they don’t have the wherewithal. They will do what they can and the donor countries can make up the difference. The report urges debt relief and a fairer trading system, eliminating rich country protections that would help poor countries earn money by exporting to western countries. The report also urges aid to recipients in the form of money specifically directed for schools, clinics, roads, medicine and food.
Measures exist that have already been proven effective. Millions of lives could be saved and improved by immediate help: with insect-treated bed nets to fight the scourge of malaria; elimination of fees for primary education; expansion of school meal programs; and treatment of AIDS and TB.
The program has been criticized as Utopian and a case of central planning by a global bureaucracy. However, the administration of the plan calls for a decentralized application. Foreign aid has often been criticized as wasteful because of bad governance and corruption. In many cases, this is a perfectly valid critique. However, there are a quite a few poor countries that are known to have well-governed and honest administrations; examples are Ghana, Mozambique, Mali, Senegal, Yemen and others. The Report recommends coordinating help with these countries first.
The 3,000 page report is the most carefully constructed plan ever put forward. The UN is the natural vehicle to orchestrate this magnificent moral effort. It demands our support.
– SYLVAIN EHRENFELD, IHEU Representative to the UN &
PHYLLIS EHRENFELD, AEU’s National Service Conference Representative to the UN