Superstar economist says poverty can be eradicated

Discussion in 'General' started by high as hell, Jul 21, 2007.


    In the respected opinion of Jeffrey David Sachs-distinguished Quetelet Professor of Sustainable Development at Columbia University, director of the Earth Institute, and special adviser to the secretary-general of the United Nations-the problem of extreme poverty can be solved. In fact, the problem can be solved "easily." "We have enough on the planet to make sure, easily, that people aren't dying of their poverty. That's the basic truth," he tells me firmly, without a doubt.

    It's November 2006, and Sachs has just addressed the General Assembly of the United Nations. His message is straightforward: "Millions of people die every year for the stupid reason they are too poor to stay alive.… That is a plight we can end." Afterward, as the two of us have lunch in the crowded U.N. cafeteria, overlooking New York's East River, he continues: "The basic truth is that for less than a percent of the income of the rich world nobody has to die of poverty on the planet. That's really a powerful truth."

    Sachs, 52, is devoting his life to this all-powerful truth. As one exhausted member of his staff explained to me, "It feels like we're running a campaign-all the time."

    Day after day, without pausing for air, it seems, Sachs makes one speech after another (as many as three in one day). At the same time, he meets heads of state, holds press conferences, attends symposiums, lobbies government officials and legislators, participates in panel discussions, gives interviews, writes opinion pieces for newspapers and magazines, and connects with anyone, absolutely anyone, who might help him spread the word.

    One week in early December, Sachs scheduled three overnight flights in five days. First, after a full day of teaching at Columbia, he flew from New York to Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo, and Brasília for two days of meetings with President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva's Cabinet. From there he headed to Washington to attend the White House Summit on Malaria, hosted by President and Mrs. Bush. Afterward he left for San Francisco, where he made a presentation to the founders of Google. That same day, a Friday, he flew home to New York. Over the weekend he attended a dinner with Ban Ki-moon, the incoming secretary-general of the United Nations. As far as I can tell, the only time Sachs slows down is when he sleeps, never more than four or five hours a night. His wife, Sonia Ehrlich, a pediatrician and the mother of his three children, has been quoted saying (more than once), "I'm a happily married single parent."

    According to Sachs, his job is to be "a pest." Bono, who wrote the foreword to Sachs's best-selling book, The End of Poverty, makes the same point, more or less poetically: "He's an irritant," Bono told me, paying Sachs a compliment. "He's the squeaky wheel that roars."

    Mark Malloch Brown, who was deputy secretary-general of the United Nations under Kofi Annan, described Sachs to me as "this magnificent battering ram." In unadorned English he added, not without respect, "He's a bully. For the record, he's a bully."

    Never mind. To Sachs, the end of poverty justifies the means. By hook or by crook, relentlessly, he has done more than anyone else to move the issue of global poverty into the mainstream-to force the developed world to consider his utopian thesis: with enough focus, enough determination, and, especially, enough money, extreme poverty can finally be eradicated.

    Once, when I asked what kept him going at this frenzied pace, he snapped back, "If you haven't noticed, people are dying. It's an emergency."

    I had noticed. It's a Sunday in mid-January, and I'm in sub-Saharan Africa. A few of us have trekked to Ruhiira, an isolated village in the highlands of southwestern Uganda. Having passed the equator some time ago, we're now, according to my map, 20 miles or so from the borders of Rwanda and Tanzania.

    There's not much of anything in Ruhiira. No electricity or running water. No roads to speak of. We're in a place of lack, of deprivation, of absence. This is the dead land. The soil, once rich and fertile, is utterly depleted from years of abuse. The surrounding hills have been plundered, stripped bare of trees. With no firewood at hand, villagers are forced to dig up banana rootstalks to use as cooking fuel. Matoke, a green starch banana that people boil and then mash, is the staple in these parts; it's about the only thing that grows freely. You won't starve on matoke, I'm told, but you certainly won't thrive. In Ruhiira, 4 in every 10 children are chronically malnourished; their growth has been stunted.

    Unsteadily, we make our way down a long and steep and narrow footpath-loose dirt and small stones. At the bottom of the hill we come upon the village's main water supply: a stagnant, filthy water hole with bugs floating on the surface. Women in bare feet, with babies strapped to their backs, bend over to fill plastic buckets and jerricans. Some of the women wear sarongs. Others are dressed in ankle-length gomesi, the traditional dress of Uganda, with high puffed sleeves and wide sashes.

    Young children too are helping to collect water. A few of the smallest girls, incongruously, are dressed in torn party dresses, pink, with ruffles, that might have been collected by, say, a church in Tulsa, Oklahoma. I notice one young boy's badly swollen feet: they're a sign of a medical condition known as kwashiorkor, or severe protein deficiency. It's what happens when someone lives on bananas alone, a doctor in our group informs me.

    Hunger won't kill these children, despite appearances. Instead, they'll most likely die of malaria. One day they'll fall into a malaria coma-fever, convulsions-and never come out of it. For African children under five years of age, malaria is the No. 1 cause of death. In Ruhiira, it's endemic.

    More and more observers arrive; one after the other they scramble down the footpath to get a good look at the women and children standing beside the cesspool. A dozen men wearing brand-new United Nations caps join us. Behind them, snapping photo after photo, is a graduate student from Germany, a sunburned woman in an emerald-green muumuu.

    Plenty of journalists have also gathered around the water hole. Over there, that way, being filmed for the BBC, and using Ruhiira's contaminated water as a colorful and authentic backdrop, is George Osborne, a member of Britain's Parliament and a rising star in the Conservative Party. "We're here at the only water source for the village," he intones, looking right into the camera. "And as you can see, the mothers there, some of whom are pregnant, are picking up water which they've then got to take up the hill."

    Still more spectators arrive. I meet four sincere, nice-looking Canadian men, square-jawed and blond: Ryan, Tyler, Joel, and John. They're volunteers with a Christian mission whose aim is to bring clean water to villages in the area. "What's going on?" asks Tyler.
  2. For every rich, there are thousands of poor. Wealth will never serve the whole world, hell i hope it doesn't. Another reason that makes this planet so diverse.
  3. how can you say something like that??
    huge gaps in poverty and richness (like that mexican guy who makes like 70% or something of mexicos money) is some type of diversity to be proud of or encouraged?

    or people dying because they can't afford to eat?

    stupid comment

  4. I guess you didn't read the article

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