Development goals a matter of life or death

Achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) is not just economics, but a matter of life or death, said Jeffrey Sachs, special adviser to the United Nations secretary general, the Mozambican news agency AIM reported.

The MDGs, approved by almost every government in the world at the UN’s Millennium Summit in 2000, include such targets as halving extreme poverty, reversing the spread of HIV/Aids, reducing child mortality by two thirds and maternal mortality by three quarters, and ensuring full primary education for every child.

However, rich countries have not yet provided the extra resources needed to meet these targets by the cut-off date of 2015.

The Millennium Goals were not just about gross domestic product (GDP) said Sachs, at a well attended public meeting in one of Maputo’s largest conference halls this week.

“They’re about whether children die in infancy, whether they die of malaria, whether children will be healthy enough to go to school and play a role in the economy of the 21st century.”

Sachs was convinced that countries such as Mozambique, with a reasonable level of governance, and with a solid policy framework in place, could achieve the MDGs. But that would require investment in agriculture, a source of employment for most of the poor.

The key difference between Asia and Africa, he argued, was that Asian agriculture was much more productive, because of the “green revolution” which in its early stages had required heavy state subsidies to farmers.

But in Africa the green revolution did not take place, said Sachs, largely because 20 years ago the World Bank started to campaign against subsidies to agriculture.

“They said you have to let the market do it. But the market has never led a green revolution.”

Sachs attacked the “market fundamentalism” which called for no subsidies and a reduction in the size of the public sector.

“The hypothesis was that, if the government got out of agriculture, then the market would lead to a rise in productivity,” he said.

“My view is that if you run an experiment for 20 years, and it doesn’t work, then you stop the experiment.”

Sachs saw some promising signs that the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF) were changing their approach.

At a recent meeting in Abuja, African leaders proposed subsidies for inputs such as fertiliser to allow the poor to climb out of the poverty trap.
The IMF and the World Bank were prepared to support this.

Second in importance to agriculture, in Sachs’ view, was health care. Proven technologies existed to cope with killer diseases and were easy to apply.

The simplest was the insecticide-treated mosquito net. If every child in Africa slept under such a net, then deaths and sickness from malaria would be dramatically reduced.

The net cost $5 and two children could sleep under it. Sachs said he thought that was a bargain—“a child’s life for 50 cents a year”.

But he was against trying to sell bed nets.

“You can’t expect people who have no money to buy bed nets,” he exclaimed.

Sachs approved of the philosophy behind the government’s Action Plan for the Reduction of Absolute Poverty (Parpa II)—but criticised its targets as too modest.

Only 36% of the population had “easy access” to a health unit. The government planned to raise this to 45% by 2009.

“We should not write a target into our plan that by 2009 we will only increase access to health services by nine percentage points,” he said.

“That’s not a target—it’s a surrender”.

“Parpa II is not ambitious enough, and we know why”, he added.

“The backing of the international community isn’t there.”

Sachs said there would be plenty of money for MDGs if donors abided by their longstanding pledge to provide 0,7% of their GDP in development aid. - Sapa

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