Global Policy Forum

UN Proposes Doubling of Aid to Cut Poverty


By Celia W. Dugger

New York Times
January 18, 2005

An international team sponsored by the United Nations proposed a detailed, ambitious plan on Monday that it says could halve extreme poverty and save the lives of millions of children and hundreds of thousands of mothers each year by 2015. The report says drastically reducing poverty in its many guises - hunger, illiteracy, disease - is "utterly affordable." To fulfill this goal, industrial nations would need to double aid to poor countries, to one-half of 1 percent of national incomes, from one-quarter of 1 percent.

"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 Prof. Jeffrey D. Sachs of Columbia University, who was appointed by Secretary General Kofi Annan in 2002 to head what is being called the United Nations Millennium Project. The report advocates reforms to ease trade barriers and sweeping investments in health, education, rural development, road building, housing and scientific research.

The blueprint won quick praise from the heads of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. But its approach was viewed by some critics as utopian overreaching. At least one economist involved, Nancy Birdsall, president of the Center for Global Development in Washington, said she worried that it put too little emphasis on the need for poor countries to make deep political and social changes to reduce poverty. The project's recommendations arrive as momentum is building among rich nations to ratchet up spending to improve the lot of the world's poor, a trend influenced by post-9/11 concerns that impoverished nations like Afghanistan and Sudan can be incubators of terrorism and conflict.

Several donor nations have recently pledged to increase aid to the poor dramatically in coming years, and a spate of reports and high-level meetings this year will draw further attention to the topic. The worldwide outpouring of grief and aid since the tsunami in South Asia killed more than 150,000 people has stirred hope here that the same wellspring can be tapped for what Professor Sachs called a "silent tsunami" of global poverty that kills more than 150,000 children every month from malaria alone.

The project's agenda is the first in a series this year intended to refocus attention on fulfilling promises to fight poverty that were made at the United Nations in 2000. There, world leaders unanimously agreed to institute universal primary education, promote sex equality and achieve sharp reductions in hunger, and in the proportion of people living on less than a dollar a day, by 2015. A main focus is also on slashing the millions of preventable deaths among mothers and children.

Britain, in particular, has recently seized the leadership on these issues. In July, it will hold a summit meeting of industrial countries that will spotlight poverty, particularly in Africa. Prime Minister Tony Blair has appointed a commission on Africa that is to report this spring, and the chancellor of the exchequer, Gordon Brown, is campaigning for a "Marshall Plan" for Africa that includes debt relief and his own proposal to nearly double aid from rich nations.

Levels of aid are likely to be high on the agenda this year. In 2002 many world leaders, including President Bush, supported a declaration promising to "make concrete efforts" toward a target of providing seven-tenths of 1 percent of their national incomes for aid. Five countries have achieved that goal: Sweden, Norway, Denmark, the Netherlands and Luxembourg. Britain, France, Finland, Spain, Ireland and Belgium have committed to reach that level on specific timetables. The United States government, which allocates less than two-tenths of 1 percent for aid, has not made a comparable pledge; the Bush administration has increased American aid by a half, to 15 hundredths of 1 percent from one-tenth of 1 percent, but it is still the smallest percentage among major donor countries.

More Information on Social and Economic Policy
More General Analysis on Poverty and Development
More Information on the Millennium Summit and Its Follow-Up


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