Can We End Global Poverty In Our Generation?
Once upon a time, everybody was poor. Then came agriculture, industry and technology. Some became rich, some remained poor because of corruption and misrule – and there are those whose poverty killed them. Imagine yourself living in an isolated village surrounded by barren fields and wilted crops, with the seasons bringing nothing but drought and mosquitoes carrying malaria. “This is a story about ending poverty in our time,” says Jeffrey D. Sachs, director of the U. N. Millennium Project, in his landmark The End of Poverty: Economic Possibilities For Our Time. “More then 8 million people around the world die each year because they are too poor to stay alive.” It’s time to end this madness. Here’s how. 1) Commit to the task. We need to rise above ourselves. The dawn of the 21st century saw most of the nations of the world – including the Philippines – join hands and craft the Millennium Development Goals, the masterplan for cutting global poverty and environmental degradation by half by 2015, and ending the remaining half in 2025. Great challenges lie ahead. “We must carry out these tasks in a context of global inertia, proclivities to war and prejudice, and understandable skepticism around the world that this time can be different from the past.” 2) Adopt a plan of action. We need to act. “Our generation, in the U.S. and abroad, can choose to end extreme poverty by the year 2025.” The pilot area is the eight villages called Sauri in Kenya. “Survival depends on addressing a series of specific challenges, all of which can be met with known, proven, reliable and appropriate technologies and interventions, such as the Big Five: Boosting agriculture. The first priority is food. “With fertilizers, cover crops, irrigation and improved seeds, Sauri’s farmers could triple their food yields and quickly end chronic hunger.” Improving basic health. Protection against diseases is a matter of life and death. “A village clinic with one doctor and nurse for the 5,000 residents would provide free anti-malarial bed nets, effective anti-malarial medicines and treatments for HIV/AIDS opportunistic infections.” Investing in education. Children should eat first. “Meals for all the children at the primary school could improve the health of the kids, the quality of education and the attendance at school.” Bringing power. Electricity is crucial to progress. “The electricity would power lights and perhaps a computer for the school; pumps for safe well water; power for milling grain, refrigeration and other needs.” Providing clean water and sanitation. Access to potable water is an inalienable right of every human being. “With enough water point and latrines for the safety of the entire village, women and children would save countless hours of toil each day fetching water.” 3) Raise the voice of the poor. We need to take the initiative. “Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. did not wait for the rich and powerful to come to their rescue.” Lethargy should be anathema because there is an undefinable beauty in a pro-active life. “It is time for the democracies in the poor world – Brazil, India, Nigeria, Senegal, South Africa and dozens of others – to join together to issue the call to action.” 4) Redeem the U.S. role in the world. We need to develop a sense of history. The United States of America, throughout the tumultuous course of human events, has been and is still is a consistent force for good. As the most powerful nation in recorded history, the United States has the moral obligation to lead the fight against poverty. As a signatory to the Monterrey Consensus of 2002, “It’s time to honor the commitment to give 0.7% of our national income to these crucial goals.” 5) Rescue the IMF and WB. We need to develop a global mindset. The International Monetary Fund and the World Bank “have the experience and technical sophistication to play an important role.” Their austerity programs may have been counter-productive, “Finally, however, that approach is beginning to change.” It’s about reinvention. “It’s time to restore their role in helping all 182 of their member-countries, not just the rich ones, in the pursuit of enlightened globalization.” 6) Strengthen the U.N. We need to remind ourselves that the brotherhood of man has no borders. The United Nations “specialized agencies have a core role to play in the ending of poverty.” They will be more efficient and organized if bureaucracy is streamlined and parochial mentalities are set aside. Authority to initiate strategies and make on-site judgment calls should be given to those who have proven their worth. “It’s time to empower the likes of the U.N. Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the World Health Organization (WHO), the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), and many others to do the job – on the ground, country by country.” 7) Harness global science. We need to recognize that modern technology is a tool for the betterment of mankind. “New technology has lead directly to improved standards of living.” But if we earthlings are so smart, why aren’t we rich? This is why “A special effort should be made by the powerhouses of world science to address the unmet challenges of the poor.” 8) Promote sustainable development. We need to enlarge our vision. “Ending extreme poverty can relieve many of the pressures of the environment. When impoverished households are more productive on their farms, for example, they feel less pressure to cut down neighboring forests in search of new farmland.” Our mission continues even after its accomplishment. “Even as extreme poverty ends, we must not fuel prosperity with a lack of concern for industrial pollution and the unchecked burning of fossil fuels.” 9) Make a personal commitment. “It all comes back to us.” We need to contribute in our own ways. “Great social forces are the mere accumulation of individual actions.” A single person, noble in his aim and persevering in is tasks, can make a difference. It’s time to be part of history. “Let the future say of our generation that we sent forth mighty currents of hope, and that we worked together to heal the world.” Jeffrey Sachs photo courtesy of the Asian Development Bank. This story originally appeared in the 2008 My Favorite Book contest, The Philippine Star Do you believe we can end extreme global poverty within our generation? Do you have ideas you want to share with policy makers? Your comments and links are welcome.