Ending Extreme Poverty Is Possible

In last week’s cover story in Time , Dr. Jeffrey Sachs, head of the Earth Institute at Columbia University, lays out an achievable plan for ending extreme poverty by 2025.

Extreme poverty is living on less than $1 a day, which means living with less income than is necessary to survive. It means chronic hunger, no health care, no safe drinking water, no sanitary waste disposal, no shoes, inadequate shelter, time-worn clothing.

1.1 billion people live like this, one-sixth of the world’s population. They are subject to the ravages of AIDS, drought, war and famine.

It doesn’t have to be this way. A mere 15 cents from every one hundred dollars of national U.S. income could make a substantial dent in this appalling daily reality.

Sachs makes a case for change that is both achievable and rational. He refutes the myth that foreign aid doesn’t work, and that corrupt political leaders are the cause of on-going poverty in the Third World. (He notes, for example, that Indonesia, Pakistan and Bangledesh have prospered while experiencing widespread corruption.)

He makes the point that complex geographic and structural economic factors play as important, if not a more important role, than corruption.

Those regions left farthest behind face special hardships and obstacles: a climate favorable to mosquito production resulting in malaria, drought prone lands unfavorable to irrigation, isolated mountain or landlocked regions and lack of natural resources such as oil, coal or natural gas.

Sachs is both realistic and determined. “The situation is grim, but salvageable,’ he writes.

He believes that multiple factors contribute to poverty and multiple approaches, designed in partnership with local people, can put an end to the most extreme poverty. The structural adjustments imposed by the World Bank have not worked in the most deprived nations. They have led to riots and social disorder and put the Bank in position to act as the collection agency for the wealthy donor nations to recover interest on loans made to indebted poor nations.

More than
of extreme
–Dr. Jeffrey Sachs

Instead, building schools, clinics, roads, electrical grids, ports and providing nutrients for the soil, clean water and sanitation facilities holds more realistic promise. These are the most basic necessities for human dignity, and for an economy to work, Sachs says.

This is also a key to global security, much more effective than allocating billions for military interventions that are creating new terrorists daily.

In fact, the daily toll should weigh heavy on our consciences. Twenty thousand people die every day from conditions of extreme poverty. They lack drugs to fight off preventable diseases. They lack treated mosquito nets to prevent malaria. They have impaired immune systems for lack of proper nutrients to sustain life. They live exposed to the elements, vulnerable to natural disasters that claim a disproportionate number of the poorest of the world.

Sachs is a refreshing, hopeful voice. We need to hear him. Moreover, we need to be even more aggressive in advocating for the “clinical economics” he is advocating. I hope people will pick up this edition of Time, read the cover story and get engaged. There is no reason to allow these life-threatening conditions to continue.

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