Millions can escape poverty

UNITED NATIONS – In the coming decade, more than 500 million people can escape from poverty and tens of millions can avoid certain death if the United States, Japan and other rich countries keep their promises to vastly increase development aid to the world’s poorest countries, says a U.N.-sponsored report released this week.

The report spells out the investments needed to meet U.N. goals adopted by world leaders at the Millennium Summit in 2000 to tackle poverty, hunger and disease mainly in African and Asian countries where 1 billion people live on a dollar a day or less and 1.8 billion more live on just US$2 a day.

‘The system is not working right now – let’s be clear,’ said Professor Jeffrey Sachs, head of the U.N. anti-poverty effort and lead author of the report. ‘There’s a tremendous imbalance of focus on the issues of war and peace, and less on the dying and suffering of the poor who have no voice.’

‘The overwhelming reality on our planet is that impoverished people get sick and die for lack of access to basic practical means that could help keep them alive and do more than that – help them achieve livelihoods and escape from poverty,’ said Sachs, who heads the Earth Institute at Columbia University.

As an example, he said, providing nets to cover beds and keep out mosquitos in impoverished African and Asian countries could save the lives of a million children this year who otherwise will die from malaria.

Sachs was appointed by Secretary-General Kofi Annan in 2002 to head the Millennium Project and develop a plan to meet the Millennium Development Goals by 2015. Annan is expected to use the report to help prepare his own recommendations to world leaders who will be attending a follow-up summit in September that will also tackle U.N. reform.

The 3,000-page report, ‘Investing In Development,’ said the poorest countries don’t have the resources to meet the goals. They include halving the number of people living on a dollar a day, achieving universal primary education, reducing child and maternal mortality, halting and reversing the spread of HIV/AIDS and malaria, and halving the number of people without access to clean water and basic sanitation.

But the resources needed to meet the goals are definitely within the means of the world’s richest nations and their $30 trillion economy $12 trillion just in the United States, Sachs said.

In 1970, the world’s nations agreed to provide 0.7 percent of their gross national income for development assistance. So far, only five countries have met or surpassed the target -Denmark, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway and Sweden. Six others have made commitments to reach the target by 2015 – Belgium, Finland, France, Ireland, Spain and Britain – and the report urged all developed countries to set similar timetables.

The United States right now only spends about 0.15 percent of its GDP on development aid, though President George W. Bush has increased the amount.

‘The required doubling of annual official development assistance to $135 billion in 2006, rising to $195 billion by 2015, pales beside the wealth of high income countries – and the world’s military budget of $900 billion a year,’ the report said.

It recommended that the international community designate a significant number of well-governed low-income countries for ‘fast-track status’ to receive the massive increase in development aid this year to implement a national poverty-reduction plan.

Poorly governed poverty-stricken countries such as Belarus, Myanmar, North Korea and Zimbabwe, which are accused of wide-scale human rights abuses, shouldn’t get large-scale aid, the report said. But Sachs said several dozen well-governed poor countries could be fast-tracked and the report names Mali, Burkino Faso, Ethiopia, Ghana, Mauritania and Yemen.

The report said large middle-income countries such as China, Brazil, Malaysia, Mexico and South Africa can afford to eliminate pockets of extreme poverty themselves and should assist poorer countries with expertise in climbing out of the poverty trap.

‘We have the opportunity in the coming decade to cut world poverty by half,’ the report said. ‘Billions more people could enjoy the fruits of the global economy. Tens of millions of lives can be saved.’

If the millennium goals are achieved by 2015, ‘more than 500 million people will be lifted out of extreme poverty. More than 300 million will no longer suffer from hunger. … Hundreds of millions more women and girls will go to school,’ it said.

The report stressed the link between development, peace and security.

‘Only by reducing poverty and improving environmental management over the coming decades can a rise in the number of conflicts and state failures be averted,’ it warned.

‘If the goals are not met, millions will die who would otherwise live. Countries that would be stable will descend into conflict. And the environment will continue to be degraded,’ the report said.

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