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Community Centric Sustainable Development

Monday, January 17, 2005

UN on fighting poverty

More of the same must fail

Subj: [breaking-the-silence] NYT: U.N. Report Urges Rich Nations to Double Aid to Poor
Date: 1/17/2005 4:00:11 PM Eastern Standard Time
Sent from the Internet (Details)
U.N. Report Urges Rich Nations to Double Aid to Poor
[ To download report:]

January 17, 2005
New York Times

UNITED NATIONS, Jan. 17 - An international team of experts sponsored by the United Nations proposed today a detailed, ambitious plan to halve extreme poverty and save the lives of millions of children and hundreds of thousands of mothers each year by 2015.

The 74-page report, which synthesizes 3,000 pages offindings by 265 experts, says that drastically reducingpoverty in its many guises - hunger, illiteracy, disease -is "utterly affordable." Industrialized nations will need to double aid to poor countries, to 0.5 percent of their national incomes, it said. The report of the United Nations Millennium Project, which was prepared under the stewardship of Prof. Jeffrey D. Sachs of Columbia University, advocates trade reforms to level the international playing field, as well a sweeping array of spending on, among other things, health, education, rural development, slum upgrading, roads and scientific research. Such an effort, the report said, would lift hundreds of millions of people out of poverty.

The Millennium Project's blueprint for development - viewedby some critics as utopian overreaching - is likely to shape the agenda for agencies of the United Nations over the coming decade and to influence other major players, including the World Bank and the governments of impoverished African countries. "We're talking about rich countries committing 50 cents out of every $100 of income to help the poorest people in the world get a foothold on the ladder of development," said Professor Sachs, who was appointed to lead the project bySecretary-General Kofi Annan in 2002. The worldwide outpouring of grief and aid since a huge tsunami killed more than 150,000 people in Asia and Africalast month has stirred hope here that the same well spring of empathy can be tapped for what Professor Sachs called "the silent tsunami" of global poverty that kills more than150,000 children every month from malaria alone.

The report, "Investing in Development: A Practical Plan toAchieve the Millennium Development Goals," is the first in a series of initiatives this year that are meant to focus the world's attention on fulfillment of sweeping poverty-fighting promises made by the world's leaders in 2000. In July, Britain will be host to a summit meeting of industrialized countries that will spotlight global poverty, particularly in Africa. Prime Minister Tony Blair has appointed a commission on Africa that is to report this spring. And Britain's finance chief, Gordon Brown, is campaigning for a "Marshall Plan" for Africa that includes debt relief and his own proposal to roughly double aid from rich nations. Britain itself has pledged to double aid by 2013 to 0.7 percent of its national income. The United States, which currently allocates less than 0.2 percent for aid, has not made a comparable pledge. In September, world leaders will gather here to take stock of progress toward the antipoverty goals they set in 2000, among them universal primary education and sharp reductionsin hunger, child and maternal mortality and the proportionof people living on less than $1 a day. Today's report says poor countries should stop tailoring their plans to combat poverty to the limited resources now available and instead draw up comprehensive approaches to achieve the poverty reduction goals, then figure the costs.The project calls on poor countries to improve their own governance, uphold the rule of law and spend more of their own money to combat poverty. But economists on the millennium team estimate that those resources will be inadequate and that donors will need to make up the difference.

"We are not telling countries what to do," Professor Sachs said. "I meet with national leaders, cabinet ministers, villagers all the time. They want to stay alive - to fight malaria, to get H.I.V.-infected people on ARV's," or antiretroviral therapies, "to build roads, to use fertilizers and agroforestry. These proposals are not imposed from the outside." The report advocates that rich countries support a crash development program this year in at least a dozen poor, well-governed nations that donors are confident will use the money wisely.

Ghana, Mozambique, Mali, Senegal and Tanzania are among those most often mentioned. It also recommends pressing this year for 17 "quick wins," policies that it says would swiftly translate into millions of improved and saved lives. Among them: mass distribution of insecticide-treated bednets and medicines to combat malaria, a leading killer of children; elimination of fees for primary schools, with lost revenue replaced by donors; expansion of school meals programs to hungry areas; providing regular deworming medicines to schoolchildren in affected areas to improve school attendance and health; distribution of free or subsidized fertilizer to impoverished African farmers; and expanded treatment of people with AIDS and tuberculosis.

The long list of "quick wins," as well as the daunting scope of development challenges the report advocates tackling simultaneously have led to internal debate among some experts working on the report. Professor Sachs, director of the Earth Institute at Columbia and a specialist in economic development as well as health policy and management, said many poor countries were ready to move forward on many fronts, especially with infusions of aid to improve their administrative and information systems. "The problem is not really the range of issues," he said, "but the lack of financing."

But Nancy Birdsall, who heads the Center for Global Development in Washington and was a leader of the project's education task force, said she worried that the report did not sufficiently emphasize that many difficult social and political changes having nothing to do with money will have to be made by the developing countries themselves to reduce poverty. And while she, too, strongly supports increased donor aid - her nonprofit institution recently published "Millions Saved," a book about successful initiatives in public health - she also said that the report recommended too many priorities and "quick wins."

"Having so many unfortunately reflects the difficult reality of setting priorities, even for the authors of this report," she said. "We wanted a constraint-free world, but that's not the way life is or the development challenge. Even if the money is there, where do you start? What do you work on?"

The report bears the unmistakable stamp of Professor Sachs, a crusader for the idea that within a generation, rich and poor countries together can end the extreme poverty afflicting more than a billion people. His indefatigable advocacy for a wide-ranging set of prescriptions and sharp increases in aid have intensified the long-smoldering debate about the efficacy of foreign aid for poor countries struggling with weak governance and corruption. Prominent development experts who were not on the Millennium Project team reacted to its report with comments that ranged from harshly critical to cautiously supportive.

William Easterly, an economics professor at New YorkUniversity, said an incremental approach with more modest goals - for example, the use of vaccinations to curtail childhood deaths from measles - would have been more effective that that of the report. "Its approach is a sort of utopian central planning by global bureaucrats, a crash program like a Great Leap Forward for poor countries," he said. "This will not work any better than central planning by bureaucrats has worked anywhere else, which is to say not at all."

But Professor Dani Rodrik, a Harvard University economist, said that while the plan requires "a huge leap of faith"that poor countries can handle sharply higher inflows of aid, it is worth a gamble, especially since the increased amount of donor assistance proposed is such a tiny share of rich countries' national incomes. "It has the potential of making a difference in a number of countries that take this opportunity and put it to good use," he said. "One has to ask the question: If not this,what else?"

Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company


Blogger Peter said...

This report sounds like all the other official relief and development assistance (ORDA) reports that get written at substantial cost and recommend more money to do essentially the same thing.

Instead of doubling the amount of money being used, what about using the money twice as well or ten times as well. This can be done if we approach the work from the perspective of the community rather than that of the UN, the World Bank, ORDA organizations and government.

January 17, 2005 at 1:30 PM  
Blogger Peter said...

Dear Colleagues

The NY Times article picks up on the need to increase the funding for relief and development and the need for higher disbursements from the rich North. But the article does not focus on the opportunity to get vastly more development impact by changing the way in which relief and development funds are used.

There are references in the report to various studies that have been made that show some work is more effective than other work. But there is no advocacy for a broad system better to "manage" decision making in relief development so that scarce resources are used in the most effective manner possible.

In my (not inconsiderable) experience relief and development disbursement achieves very little compared to what would be possible if used in the most productive manner possible. When we start tracking funds from point of origin with a donor to final use and benefit, we will find that it is possible to get many times the benefit from development resources than is now the norm. We need to start off by not wasting relief and development resources.

Peter Burgess

January 17, 2005 at 1:56 PM  
Blogger Peter said...

A letter to the editor of the New York TimesSubj: Regarding the UN Millenium Developement Project
Date: 1/18/2005 1:59:15 AM Eastern Standard Time
From: Profitinafrica

Dear Editor

The report just released by the United Nations Millennium Project, coordinated by Prof. Jeffrey D. Sachs of Columbia University and reported on by Celia Dugger of the New York Times does not seem to say much that is new. This should not be a surprise. Just a modest increase from 15 cents to 50 cents per $100 of national product will do the job.(sarcasm!)

But why not revisit the question of why 15 cents of relief and development assistance seems to produce almost nothing of progress, and after 40 years the biggest result of development investment is a mountain of unserviceable debt. The same amount of resources used far better would result in achievement of the Millennium Goals.

As Professor Sachs suggests: "Do the arithmetic" and I would add "Do management information, so that you can do the arithmetic". And address transparency and accountability, because not much of the 15 cents ever gets to be used as intended.

Fix the fund flows and then you will get results.


Peter Burgess
Peter Burgess
CCSD Consortium / Tr-Ac-Net in New York
Tel: 212 772 6918
221 East 66th Street (4C)
New York NY 10021


Biographical note:
I first started working internationally in 1974 when I was CFO of a US based international company. In 1978 I did my first consulting assignment with the World Bank, and subsequently did consulting assignments for the World Bank, the UNDP, UNHCR, IFAD, FAO and other entities of the official relief and development assistance community. I was in the planning team for Namibia's first post independence development plan and acting aid coordinator in Namibia and in several other African nations. I was in a planning team for the (unimplemented) reconstruction of Afghanistan after the withdrawal of the Soviets. I have worked in more than 50 countries, and am one of the few "accountants" who works extensively in the relief and development space.

January 17, 2005 at 11:46 PM  

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