Originally published in the San Antonio Express-News, January 30, 2005
by Susan Ives
When I zapped off last week’s column about the U.N. Millennium Development Report, I braced myself for the flood of hateful e-mail that always arrives after I write about poor people.
“*%( liberal !@*&$.”
The expletives vary, but that pesky L-word always holds the pride of place. Liberal.
If eliminating poverty in the Third World is liberal, you can add the CIA, the Pentagon, the Bush administration, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund to your list of pernicious liberal institutions.
All agree poverty, not ideology, is the primary cause of instability in our world. If your life is nasty, brutish and short, you have little stake in a stable world order. If you are illiterate and isolated, you have few opportunities to participate in a democracy. Global poverty makes the world less secure.
The Bush administration’s Millennium Challenge Corp., although it has not started disbursing money, takes an approach similar to that advocated in the U.N. report.
In December 2000, the CIA’s Global Trends 2015 report warned that some cities in the Arab world, for example, could become “impossibly overpopulated hubs of discontent, dramatically under-serviced by such basic infrastructure as drinking water and sewage.”
“Their population is likely to be young, hungry, sick, disillusioned and very, very angry,” the CIA concluded.
Figuring out a way to end global poverty is not liberal: It’s logical. It’s the one area in international affairs where the flint-hearted bankers and the bleeding-heart do-gooders agree.
The Millennium Project’s research shows not only that global poverty can be eliminated but also explains how, in rigorous technical detail. It acknowledges, as many of my e-mail buddies point out, that only about 30 cents of every dollar in development aid trickles down to the poor people it is intended to help. Much of it is frittered away through inefficiency and top-heavy administration, and some is skimmed off by corrupt officials.
Trust me: Liberals don’t like this. The guys with their fingers in the till are not the spiritual heirs of Mother Teresa, diverting the money to day-care centers and polio vaccinations. They are repressive dictators who exploit their own people by diverting aid money to arms, limos and tickets to inaugural balls, none of which is a favored liberal cause.
Everyone agrees that aid needs to be administered with greater efficiency and impeccable accountability. The Millennium report explains exactly how this can be done.
Although much of the report focuses on complex infrastructure changes, the most intriguing part is a list of 17 “quick win” actions that could immediately save millions of lives at modest cost, from providing free school meals in poverty-stricken areas to furnishing small diesel or solar-powered generators to hospitals.
Or providing mosquito nets.
Mosquitoes kill 20 times more people each year than the recent tsunami did; 1 million to 2 million people die every year from malaria, most of them in sub-Sahara Africa, 90 percent of them pregnant women and children under 5.
But the tragedy extends beyond the personal heartbreak of a motherless family or a tiny coffin. Malaria costs Africa 1.2 percent of its GDP, or about $12 billion a year, money desperately needed for other projects. It interrupts the education of the children that it doesn’t kill.
A $5 insecticide-impregnated bed net can protect a child for five years. That’s all it takes: $1 per year per child. Each month, 150,000 African children die of malaria. Columbia professor Jeffrey Sachs, director of the Millennium Project, calls it the silent tsunami. We can buck the tide.
“We’re calling for targeting the aid to those countries that are well-governed and can demonstrate the effective use of the aid, not only beforehand, but also through monitoring, evaluation and audits,” Sachs told the “The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer.”
Now that’s an approach that can appeal to the staunchest of conservatives and the most stalwart liberal. Sounds like a plan to me.