Monday, January 17, 2005

Cutting Poverty in Half by 2015

I know; we've all heard grandiose schemes to eliminate poverty before. I'm hoping this one is different. It's sponsored by the UN, includes a detailed plan with specific goals, and uses a realistic time frame. From the NY Times;

...The report says drastically reducing poverty in its many guises - hunger, illiteracy, disease - is "utterly affordable." To fulfill this goal, industrial nations would need to double aid to poor countries, to one-half of 1 percent of national incomes, from one-quarter of 1 percent.

"We're talking about rich countries committing 50 cents out of every $100 of income to help the poorest people in the world get a foothold on the ladder of development," said Prof. Jeffrey D. Sachs of Columbia University, who was appointed by Secretary General Kofi Annan in 2002 to head what is being called the United Nations Millennium Project...
Prof. Sachs is the director of the Earth Institute at Columbia. The details of their 10 point plan are linked here. It looks to me like they've covered all the bases;

...The UN Millennium Project is a three-year initiative conceived of by the United Nations to analyze policy options and develop a plan of implementation for achieving the Millennium Development Goals. The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) are a set of clear targets for reducing poverty, hunger, disease, illiteracy, environmental degradation, and discrimination against women by 2015. These goals were adopted by world leaders at the United Nations Millennium Summit in September 2000.

In order to identify the operational priorities, organizational means of implementation, and financing structures necessary to achieve the MDGs, ten thematically-orientated task forces have been formed.

Task Force 1 on Poverty and Economic Development
Task Force 2 on Hunger
Task Force 3 on Education and Gender Equality
Task Force 4 on Child Health and Maternal Health
Task Force 5 on HIV/AIDS, Malaria, TB, Other Major Diseases, and Access to Essential Medicines
Task Force 6 on Environmental Sustainability
Task Force 7 on Water and Sanitation
Task Force 8 on Improving the Lives of Slum Dwellers
Task Force 9 on Open, Rule-Based Trading Systems
Task Force 10 on Science, Technology and Innovation
There are critics of the plan, however, as noted by the Times;

...William Easterly, an economics professor at New York University, said an incremental approach with more modest goals - for example, prevention of childhood deaths from measles through vaccination - would have been more effective than that of the report.

"Its approach is a sort of utopian central planning by global bureaucrats, a crash program like a Great Leap Forward for poor countries," he said. "This will not work any better than central planning by bureaucrats has worked anywhere else, which is to say not at all."

But Prof. Dani Rodrik, a Harvard University economist, said that while the plan required what he called "a huge leap of faith" that poor countries could handle sharply higher flows of aid, it was worth a gamble, especially because the increased amount of aid proposed is such a small share of rich countries' national incomes.

"It has the potential of making a difference in a number of countries that take this opportunity and put it to good use," he said. "One has to ask the question: If not this, what else?"
Exactly. We need to act now, and not allow ourselves to get sidetracked by another Great Adventure. We have the opportunity to save millions of lives.

So what's the bottom line? What's it going to cost us? The Guardian offers a good summary of the numbers;

...The report lists 10 key recommendations for action, one of which is that rich countries increase their overseas development aid to 0.7% of GDP by 2015 from an average of 0.25% today.

Only a handful of countries such as Denmark and the Netherlands have achieved the 0.7% target although Britain, Belgium, France, Finland and Ireland have pledged to do so. The United States and Japan - the world's two largest economies - only spend 0.15% and 0.2% respectively on aid.
Yes, you read that correctly; out of the largest economies, the US comes in last. The old cliche about learning much about a person's priorities by looking at their bank statement is true. The bank statement of the US reveals a nation preoccupied with military adventures. Here is what Prof. Sachs has to say about such a priority;

...What we learned is easily summarized. For every major problem -- hunger, illiteracy, malnutrition, malaria, AIDS, drought and so forth -- there are proven and affordable solutions. These investments would strengthen the private sector and economic growth, but they require global partnership between the world's rich and poor countries. Most important, the world's richest countries need to do much more to help the poorest countries fight disease, educate their children and protect the environment.

The United States, for example, currently spends around $450 billion each year on its military, but less than $15 billion in development aid. This is a mistake, because only shared prosperity -- not military approaches alone -- can make America truly safe and the planet secure...
Sounds like a voice of sanity in the midst of a world gone mad, doesn't it? The plan looks good, and the media seems to be picking up on this story. Now the question is; how do we build a fire under Washington about this, and keep it fueled for the next 10 years?


No comments:

Post a Comment