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Earth Institute's Jeffrey Sachs, Pedro Sanchez Address U.N. Goal of Eradicating Extreme Poverty By 2015 at Summit

By Colin Morris

Jeffrey Sachs, left, and Pedro Sanchez

In order to improve the detrimental repercussions of globalization on certain regions, the United Nations Development Program, in conjunction with Columbia's Earth Institute, has launched the Millennium Development Program (MDG). The initiative, approved by all 189 UN member countries during the 2003 Millennium Summit, boasts ambitious goals -- eradicate extreme global poverty, achieve universal primary education, promote gender equality, and ensure environmental sustainability, among others -- all by 2015.

Jeffrey Sachs, director of the Earth Institute, special advisor to UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, and MDG task force coordinator of poverty and economic development, remains staunchly optimistic. Speaking at the recent MDG symposium, which took place at the Graduate School of Journalism, Sachs explained, "In everyone of these targets we can make marvelous headway in the world if we would not dream and not debate about the biggest abstractions, but get down to work and actually solve these problems."

Sachs laid out three major factors that impede problematic regions, such as Sub-Saharan Africa, from sustainable development. The first is location. Lack of coastal access coupled with land problems like depletion of nutrients in soil heavily sets back countries attempting to join the global market. Secondly, bad governance ensures failure, Sachs explained, noting Zimbabwean President Mugabe's failures to provide his people with essential needs. "We have to name names because the situation is disastrous and people are suffering due to terrible governance." The third factor is that any country suffering from tragic conditions won't be able to escape the poverty trap on their own.

"What we find in our work is that if countries are below an absolute minimum threshold -- they don't have roads, they're battling with malaria or AIDS, education levels are tragically low, power, electricity, water and sanitation are not available -- the idea that all you have to do is send over an IMF (International Monetary Fund) mission and tell them to tighten their belts and that the world's economy will lift them up is a cruel death sentence," Sachs said. "A trap is a trap, and hundreds of millions of people are trapped in poverty."

The stats indeed remain daunting. "Every minute five children die from malnutrition-related causes," explained Pedro Sanchez, professor at the Earth Institute and hunger task force coordinator.

"There are 800 million people in this world who do not know where their next meal is coming from," Sanchez said. According to Sanchez, Kofi Annan had contacted Sachs in regards to initiating a "Green Revolution" in Sub-Saharan Africa. The original Green Revolution was a program based in hunger stricken India between the late 1960's through the late 70's. The initiative, focusing on continued expansion of farming areas, double-cropping the existing farmland, and using seeds with improved genetics, proved wildly successful, turning India to an agricultural powerhouse by the end of its run. Absolute poverty in the region was halved.

Sanchez promoted similar basic initiatives, such as ensuring fertilizer, which costs 2 to 6 times as much in Africa, would be distributed soil-depleted areas. One criticism of the Green Revolution was its environmental side effects from pesticides and other chemicals. Sanchez stressed that his task force would focus on more environmentally friendly means, such as focusing on higher quality seeds. "We do encourage the use of fertilizers. The wise combination of organic and inorganic is what we're advocating." Creating programs to ensure universal school lunches with locally produced foods is another goal, which many of the poorest regions in Africa do not yet provide. "This is major, it's very hard to learn when you're hungry," said Sanchez. And this will attract more kids to the schools." Basic functions will prove the most effective, according to Sanchez.

Some countries, however, have fared well through global development in the last century. Yee Cheong Lee, task force coordinator for science, technology and innovation, and president-elect of the World Federation of Engineering Organizations (WEFO), described his home of Malaysia as a country that 30 years ago faced very similar problems of Sub-Saharan Africa. Lee emphasized the importance of having a solid science and technology system such as a national academy, which through political backing, would be able to mobilize small and medium enterprises in a country. Those enterprises, working to better the country then employ young local workforce on a wide range of levels.

Lee encouraged problematic countries to look towards Malaysia not for their successes but to analyze their missteps. Lee warned against looking to the advanced first world models of investing in high-end development projects, which for a growing country with little means would simply widen the income gap. Furthermore, highly trained students would find little work in their own country and thus continue the "brain drain" trend through emigration. Lee emphasized that many countries possess the technology to assist with the imbalances in the world, and that political will and commitment are the catalysts on which focus must lie.

Published: May 21, 2003
Last modified: May 21, 2003


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