United Nations Plan to Fight Global Poverty
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MARGARET WARNER: A new U.N.-sponsored report was issued today laying out a blueprint to dramatically reduce global poverty. The report is billed as a practical plan to implement the so-called millennium development goals that world leaders agreed on in 2000 and 2002.
Among its ten recommendations: Wealthy countries should boost development aid to .7 percent of GDP over the next decade, and the money should be spent in part on fairly inexpensive, quick-win projects that would dramatically improve health and education for the world’s poor.
Economist Jeffrey Sachs of Columbia University is director of the U.N. Millennium Project and lead author of today’s report. He joins us now. Welcome, Dr. Sachs.
JEFFREY SACHS: Thank you so much.
MARGARET WARNER: What is the main message you would like the American public to take away from this report today?
JEFFREY SACHS: The main message is that extreme poverty on our planet, which threatens us by causing instability, disease, causes millions of people to suffer and die unnecessarily, can be brought to a close by our generation. And the Millennium development goals, which are goals to cut by half that extreme poverty by the year 2015, are achievable. But we’re not on course to achieve these goals right now. We can get on course through modest steps on our part, coupled with a partnership with the poorest places in the world.
MARGARET WARNER: Give us now some examples of these quick-win projects that you described in this report.
JEFFREY SACHS: I think it’s important, as Americans have seen with horror the Indian Ocean tsunami, to realize that there is a silent tsunami under way all the time in rural Africa. Every month, as many children die of malaria in Africa as died in the tsunami — about 150,000 children dying every month. And yet malaria is a largely preventable and utterly treatable disease. It’s preventable by something as simple as a mosquito bed net that’s impregnated with insecticide. And these nets are extraordinarily inexpensive — about $1 per year, $5 for a five-year net. That is an effort that the rich world could easily help the most impoverished places in the world to gain access to these nets.
And ironically, it’s an amount that still is too large for the poorest people in the world to gain access out of their own income. In other words, here’s a quick win. We could save more than one million children per year that are dying of malaria by helping to distribute on a mass basis, like we do with immunizations, bed nets to protect the children against malaria, and with the modest additional expense to distribute effective medicines that would dramatically cut the disease burden and the number of children dying. Our estimate is that this would require about $2 to $3 per person per year in the rich world. Think about it: $2 to $3 per person in the rich world. A billion of us in the rich countries– that’s $2 billion to $3 billion per year– could save more than a million lives.
MARGARET WARNER: All right, give us the gap that exists right now, both in percentage and in sort of the gross dollar terms between what the wealthy nations of the world are giving for development aid and what will be needed, or what is needed.
JEFFREY SACHS: Before I do that, I should say the biggest gap in our country is the gap in perception, because Americans are generous. You see how they responded to the tsunami. But they think we do twenty to thirty times more in development aid than we actually do. So right now, the rich world on average gives about 25 cents out of every $100 of rich world income to help the poor countries. In the United States, it’s just 15 cents out of every $100 of our income. What we calculate to be needed is on the order of about 50 cents per every $100 of income.
So the difference is going from an average of a quarter of 1 percent to about a half of 1 percent of income. It’s a very modest amount. Of course, the rich world is very rich right now. It’s a $30 trillion rich world economy, so a quarter of that per year is on the order of about 60 or 70 billion dollars per year incrementally that would enable the poorest parts of the world to break out of the trap of extreme poverty and disease; millions of lives saved; and finally, ending the dependence on aid, actually. That’s the real point, because we not just give emergency assistance, but actually help the poor to stand on their own through the kinds of investments that we’re advocating.
MARGARET WARNER: What would ensure that if the wealthy countries gave at the level you’re suggesting that the money would be spent wisely on health and education projects of the kinds you’re talking about, rather than lost to corruption and mismanagement by the recipient countries?
JEFFREY SACHS: Well, I think it’s very important to stress we’re not advocating a blank check. The money actually comes at the very end of our story. We’re advocating specific, targeted assistance– like the bed nets, which will not end up in offshore bank accounts. They’ll end up protecting children as they sleep at night in malarious regions. We’re advocating specific plans against which money would be dispersed step by step. We’re advocating giving this kind of help to the well-governed low-income countries, so we’re calling for targeting the aid to those countries that are well-governed and can demonstrate the effective use of the aid, not only beforehand, but also through monitoring, evaluation, and audits.
Now, this is what the United States is beginning to do in an initiative of the Bush administration called the Millennium Challenge Corporation. It’s a good start. It hasn’t yet started to disperse money, but it’s very much in line with the philosophy of our report. But what we’re doing is providing the arithmetic and the designated areas that are very high priorities where we could have such a big difference growing more food, fighting against malaria, and so forth, where you could really make the breakthroughs.
MARGARET WARNER: Now, the Bush administration says they may be only giving 15 cents for every $100 of GDP on development aid, but that the U.S. is very generous when it comes to humanitarian aid, responding to disasters, for instance, whether it’s the tsunami or famines or floods, and that also it provides military airlifts for goods, that there are a lot of remittances going back to poor countries from people who come here, migrate here to work and send the money back. What about that?
JEFFREY SACHS: Well, that’s all true, but it just doesn’t add up, because other countries do the same, and the overall level of our development assistance, public plus private, is perhaps 20 cents out of every $100, and it needs to be a bit higher. So I believe the generosity is there. The striking fact is Americans think that we’re doing so much more than we are. Americans on opinion surveys think in their response that about a quarter of the federal budget is devoted to development assistance, and it’s far less than 1 percent of the federal budget.
So I think when Americans know what could be accomplished, say, in the fight against malaria or in helping farmers grow more food and what we’re actually doing, they’d want to do more. They want to be sure that it would be effectively utilized. What would surprise Americans is how cost-ineffective some of our strategies are. For example, a couple of years ago, we gave a half a billion dollars of emergency food aid to Ethiopia. That was very noble and humanitarian, and vital at the moment.
But we’ve only been giving about one-hundredth of that actually to help Ethiopian farmers grow more food more reliably so they wouldn’t be trapped by these famines every few years. We’d do a lot better if we were investing in Ethiopia’s food productivity, rather than simply responding to disasters. That’s really what we’re saying in this report.
MARGARET WARNER: Now, in the short term, before the day that the wealthy countries give as much as you believe they should, can some of the money that is being given be redirected? For instance, take the malaria nets as an example. Are there ways that the current amount of money could be used more wisely, and will that begin?
JEFFREY SACHS: Well, or course, no doubt almost any money flow could be used more wisely, but the amount of money actually reaching Africa from U.S. assistance has been on the order of about $2 to $3 per African per year– not enough to really rearrange to make a decisive difference. And we’re saying that you actually have to do the arithmetic and get those numbers up. A problem with U.S. policy in the past is that there actually are lots of symbolic efforts on malaria, on water and sanitation, even — it’s a little unfair.
They’re more than symbolic; they’re just very small-scale. And so what I’m strongly suggesting to the government, to the White House, to the Congress is, let’s do the arithmetic together to see what it would really cost, because the bottom line is far less shocking than most people assume. It really is pennies on the hundred dollars, 20 or 30 cents on the hundreds dollars– absolutely a manageable sum for results that would provide a vast boost to our security, help to stabilize a very unstable part of the world, and, of course, do what Americans first and foremost would like to do, which is to save lives and help people stand on their own feet.
MARGARET WARNER: Jeffrey Sachs, head of the U.N. Millennium Project, thank you.
JEFFREY SACHS: Well, thank you very much.