Last time, we saw Jeffrey Sachs discussing Africa’s tremendous burden of disease and its relationship to the continent’s poverty and slow economic growth. Next, Sachs turned his attention to the rest of Africa’s problems, and to broader lobbying for more international action on poverty. But a small matter of a terrorist attack got in the way.

The 21st Century, Sachs noted, started well for poor countries. The Millennium Assembly, in September 2000, was the largest gathering of world leaders in history. It produced the Millennium Development Goals, the framework that has shaped aid efforts ever since. You’ll probably have heard of the goals, but it’s worth quickly summarising them. All are to be achieved by 2015 and start (for some reason) from 1990 measurements.

  • Halve the proportion of people whose income is less than one dollar a day, and the proportion of people who suffer from hunger
  • Ensure that all children can complete primary school
  • Eliminate gender inequalities in education
  • Reduce child mortality by two-thirds
  • Reduce deaths in childbirth by three-quarters
  • Have halted and begun to reverse the spread of AIDS, malaria and other major diseases
  • Halve the proportion of people without access to clean water
  • Integrate principles of environmental sustainability into country policies
  • Improve the conditions of at least 100 million slum dwellers (this is by 2020)

There’s also a selection of vaguer, less measurable goals, including: develop a fair and open trading system that includes a commitment to poverty reduction; address the special trade needs of developing countries; address the special needs of small island states and landlocked states; put developing country debt on a sustainable footing; provide access to essential drugs in developing countries; and – my favourite for vagueness – “develop and implement strategies for decent and productive work for youth.”

The MDGs have been criticised, a view I might look at later on, mostly for being psuedo-scientific and unmeasurable. Plus, as Sachs points out, the world had made grand pronunciations on poverty before and then done nothing. Nevertheless, he says, “there was a palpable sense that this time [the promises] might be fulfilled.” The goals were an improvement on previous plans, noting the multidimensional nature of poverty, the importance of gender, and other lessons (it’s this comprehensiveness that gives them their slightly shopping-list feel). The world was enjoying a long economic boom. The signs were positive.

Then two planes hit the World Trade Center.

The attacks, Sachs argued, only strengthened the case for global action on poverty. “Terrorism hasw complex and varying causes, and cannot be fought by military means alone,” he argues. “To fight terrorism, we will need to fight poverty and deprivation as well… if societies like Somalia, Afghanistan and Pakistan were healthier, terrorists could not operate so readily in their midst.”

And for a while, it looked like this message might have got through. An international development conference in March 2002 reiterated the importance of aid and called on countries to meet the longstanding goal of devoting 0.7% of their economies to aid. The US announced the Millennium Challenge Account, a $10 billion aid program. It only nudged the US towards the 0.7% goal (from 0.14% to 0.2%, roughly), but it was a start.

Sachs labels the Iraq war as the sign that the Bush administration had lost interest in fighting extreme poverty. He does acknowledge that in January 2003, Bush further increased aid, specifically to combat AIDS – an extra $3 billion a year for five years. But overall, he argues, it was clear its focus on the military response to terrorism (supposedly) was draining energy from a nonmilitary response. “Official Washington,” he argues, “was completely focused on war rather than on development, the environment, and other issues of pressing human concern around the globe.” And, of course, the war has eaten money that might have been challenged into further aid increases. Incredibly, the war in Iraq has cost about an average of $5 billion every single month since it began in 2003. One month’s Iraq war = nearly two years of US AIDS spending.

Meanwhile, Sachs took up the two posts which now occupy him: Chair of the UN Millennium Project, and Director of Columbia University’s Earth Institute. The MDP was set up by Kofi Annan to bring rigorous analytical analysis to measuring progress towards the Millennium Development Goals, and to finding new ways of speeding that progress. Its report is something we’ll look at in more detail later. The Earth Institute had a similar goal, but with more of an environmental layer in addition to the poverty focus. Both based in New York, they’ve worked closely together. Sachs indulges in a brief advertisement for the Earth Institute which, though self-serving, is worth summarising as it gives good examples of the kinds of new study which he believes are providing solutions to the problems of poverty. The Institute is doing everything from using GPS data to predict malaria epidemics, to designing low-cost, long-life batteries to power lightbulbs in villages without electricity. The key aspect – which seems central to Sachs’ philosophy – is interdisciplinarity. Science, economics and politics have all looked at the problems of development separately. Sachs believes passionately they must work together to see the interconnected problems. It’s part of the “clinical economics” approach he outlined earlier in the book.

Sachs’ portrayal of his career has been accused of arrogance, and he does have the tendency to portray himself as the key actor in all the major achievements in development in recent years. But then, he’s so well-connected and apparently wise, I suppose it’s possible he really is as influential as he suggests. Either way, this cathchup to 2004, when Sachs wrote the book, concludes the autobiographical section. The remaining nine chapters outline in detail Sachs’ plan for ending poverty by 2025. This, essentially, is where the good stuff starts. See you then.

All quotations and statistics drawn from The End of Poverty, UK Paperback edition, pp. 210-226
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