Interviews

Jeffrey D. Sachs: Integrated Development for Global Impact

Dr. Jeffrey D. Sachs is an American economist and Director of The Earth Institute at Columbia University. Sachs became known for his role as an adviser to Eastern European and developing country governments during the transition from communism to a market system or during periods of economic crisis. Subsequently he has been known for his work on the challenges of economic developmentenvironmental sustainabilitypoverty alleviationdebt cancellation, and globalization. Sachs is Special Adviser to United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon on the Millennium Development Goals, having held the same position under former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan.
 
He is co-founder and Chief Strategist of Millennium Promise Alliance, a nonprofit organization dedicated to ending extreme poverty and hunger. From 2002 to 2006, he was Director of the United Nations Millennium Project's work on the Millennium Development Goals, eight internationally sanctioned objectives to reduce extreme poverty, hunger, and disease by the year 2015. He is Director of the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network. Since 2010 he has also served as a Commissioner for the Broadband Commission for Digital Development, which leverages broadband technologies as a key enabler for social and economic development. Sachs has authored three New York Times bestsellers in the past seven years: The End of Poverty (2005), Common Wealth (2008), and The Price of Civilization (2011). He has been named one of Time Magazine's "100 Most Influential People in the World" twice, in 2004 and 2005. 


 

Ann Paisley Chandler: As the world's leading expert on extreme poverty, tell us what this looks like.

Jeffrey D. Sachs: Extreme poverty, in essence, means a daily struggle for survival.  A billion or so people remain trapped in extreme poverty, lacking adequate household incomes, food security, education, basic infrastructure, and access to health care, and safety from natural hazards.  Getting out of extreme poverty requires investments, in businesses, human capital (skills, health, nutrition), and infrastructure.  While most countries of the world have the domestic resource base to end extreme poverty and achieve sustainable development, roughly 75 or so of the poorest or otherwise most vulnerable countries do not. These countries are too poor, remote, conflict-ridden, bereft of natural resources, or burdened by other challenges (e.g. droughts and famines, or tropical diseases) to end extreme poverty on their own. Often they experience insecurity and armed conflict, leading to a vicious spiral of deepening poverty and spreading violence. These countries, including many in the Horn of Africa, the Sahel, Central Asia, and many landlocked and small-island economies, need special international support to break the vicious cycle of lack of economic development, environmental degradation, insecurity, and conflict.
 
Chandler: Is it possible to end extreme poverty? What would that take?
 
Sachs: Ending extreme poverty may seem utopian, but it is not.  In fact, extreme poverty is an anachronism in the 21st century, since we now [have] the know-how, experience, and overall lift of world markets, to bring the curtain down on extreme poverty where it still exists.  A realistic timeline would be 2030, as the World Bank has just adopted for the end of extreme poverty. 
 
The world has considerable momentum with regards to this goal. Extreme poverty in developing countries was roughly halved between 1990 and 2010, from 43% to around 22%, and is perhaps around 20% today.  Child mortality rates have also come down sharply, from 97/1,000 in 1990 to around 63/1,000 in 2010.  In this same interval, enrollment in primary education rose from 82% to 90% of the number of children of primary-school age. Access to safe water increased from an estimated 76% to 89% of the population. And the technological revolution is spreading everywhere, with mobile phone subscriptions worldwide now exceeding 6 billion, including around 500 million in sub-Saharan Africa at the end of 2012.  The current projections are that by 2017 more than 80% of the world will be in areas with access to wireless broadband Internet. Today’s momentum makes it possible to be ambitious regarding ending poverty in all its forms.
 
Rapid reductions in poverty have therefore become eminently feasible thanks to rising incomes, unprecedented scientific and technological progress, a growing political awareness of the need for effective public and private action, and the building of several important global partnerships, such as the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB, and Malaria. Our generation has at its disposal the tools to end extreme poverty in all its forms, promote economic growth, and advance environmental sustainability. Where improved tools are needed, particularly to decouple economic progress from the use of environmental resources, these too can be developed through concerted action and practical problem solving by governments, business, civil society, science and academia.
 
Chandler: The 8 MDGs are eradicating extreme poverty and hunger, achieving universal primary education, promoting gender equality and empowering women, reducing child mortality rates, improving maternal health, combating HIV/AIDS, malaria, and other diseases, ensuring environmental sustainability, and developing a global partnership for development. Explain how the Millennium Villages Project is using a holistic approach to achieve these goals.
 
Sachs: The Millennium Villages Project (MVP) is indeed an integrated development program to achieve the eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) in low-income rural Africa. The core program operates in 10 Millennium Village (MV) sites averaging around 50,000 persons each, in 10 countries that span nine agro-ecological zones. There are around 10 more African countries that are adopting key parts of the program in selected villages or at country scale.  The project simultaneously addresses the challenges of extreme poverty in many overlapping areas: agriculture, education, health, infrastructure, gender equality, and business development. Each sector involves a large number of specific interventions determined by the local context.
 
The hallmark of the MVP has become the design and implementation of systems of local service delivery and public investment. The health system exemplifies the approach. The goal is to implement a primary health system that integrates across the continuum of primary care: community awareness, Community Health Workers, clinical facilities, referral hospital and emergency transport. This should be done at cost (roughly $US 40 per capita in 2005 prices), with high efficacy (as judged by achieving MDGs 4, 5, and 6, notably reduced child and maternal mortality and control of the epidemic diseases). Similar systems are being implemented in education, local infrastructure (water and sanitation), smallholder farming and business development.
 
Chandler: With a world population of 7.2 billion people, what are the challenges of a growing global population?
 
Sachs: The world population in 1960 was 3 billion, and it took 14 years to add another billion, reaching 4 billion in 1974. By 1999 the world had reached 6 billion, and it only took 12 years to add another billion, reaching 7 billion in 2011. According to the UN’s medium-fertility projection, the global population will reach 10 billion in 2084. This growth represents a major challenge for sustainable development.
 
Average population growth is slowing. The world’s average total fertility rate (TFR) has declined markedly during the past 60 years, from 4.95 children during 1950-55 to 2.45 children during 2010-15. Yet 58 countries still have high fertility, 39 of them located in sub-Saharan Africa, 9 in Asia, 6 in Oceania and 4 in Latin America and the Caribbean.  As a group, they have an average fertility of nearly 5 children per woman and, even if their fertility declines to 2.8 children per woman by 2050, they will account for most of the population growth expected in the coming decades. According to the UN’s medium-fertility forecast, sub-Saharan Africa’s population is on track to soar from 856 million in 2010 to 2 billion by 2050 and 3.4 billion by 2100. The region’s share of world population would rise from 7% in 1950 to 33% in 2100.
 
Such demographic trends could cripple the long-term development prospects in high-fertility countries in at least four ways: First, the parental investments per child in health, nutrition, and education would likely be severely inadequate. Second, women who have many children will have less opportunities to engage in other activities, be it education or gainful employment, and they will be more likely to die in childbirth. Third, government budgets would be strained or unable to keep up with the needs to build more schools, clinics, and infrastructure for a rising population. Fourth, the soaring population could devastate the environment, in the rising demand for arable land, pastures, forest products, and water.
 
Fortunately, the pathways to accelerating the reduction of fertility are well known. There is plenty of evidence that the combination of women’s empowerment, voluntary access to culturally sensitive family planning and reproductive health services, as well as investments in child survival and girls’ education can lead to rapid, voluntary reductions in fertility rates. With focused public policies and household awareness efforts, high-fertility countries could reduce the TFR to below 3 by 2030, and perhaps even below 2.5. This would slow population increase and enable much higher levels of human capital investments per child, thereby giving a powerful push to economic development. 
 
The evidence suggests that high-fertility countries, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa, must urgently make a serious commitment to them, especially because they have the most to gain in the economic and environmental spheres by slowing down their population growth sooner rather than later.
 
Chandler: What are some of the most pressing environmental threats the world faces now?
 
Sachs: The scale of human impact on the physical Earth – climate, ecosystems, and scarce primary commodities – has reached very dangerous levels, more rapidly and disruptively than was foreseen by most in 2000.  With a world population now at 7.2 billion people and an annual GDP of nearly US$90 trillion, the world economy using today’s technologies is already exceeding several of the earth’s “planetary boundaries” for environmental safety.  Many key ecosystems are already being threatened or destroyed. Climate change is no longer a future threat but a stark current reality; global temperatures are rising; extreme weather events are becoming commonplace; the ocean is acidifying; fisheries are being fished to exhaustion; many fossil resources including oil and groundwater are being rapidly depleted; and the earth is in the midst of an unprecedented mass extinction of species.  These pressures will grow relentlessly and inexorably with further economic growth.  The world economy is roughly doubling in size every generation (4 per cent global economic growth per year signifies a doubling time of just 18 years).
 
Chandler: How should the world address these problems?
 
Sachs: Several critical transformations are required to ensure environmental sustainability, and to achieve other sustainable development objectives. First and of particular urgency, is the need to decarbonize the economy by 2050. A second major transformation is required for sustainable agriculture and food security. Food production is often environmentally destructive, causing groundwater depletion, topsoil loss, greenhouse gas emissions, pollution from fertilizers and pesticides, loss of habitat, and declining biodiversity. The rising world population and per capita food demands will exacerbate these problems. These challenges must be addressed by promoting the rapid, voluntary reduction of fertility and by pursuing an environmentally sustainable intensification of agriculture – including targeted support to smallholder farmers – to increase yields by at least 70 percent, investments in the resilience to climate change, and drastically reduced losses in the food production chain. Third, cities and urban development constitute another priority challenge, and urbanization is proceeding at a very rapid pace in all developing countries. Yet, cities also offer tremendous potential for positive change and are often at the forefront of innovation in technologies and policies. Cities are increasingly the fulcrum of economic development and poverty eradication, social inclusion, environmental sustainability, and good governance. Fourth, the biodiversity management transformation must focus on improved management of the six critical biomes that constitute key “global regulating systems” of concern for humanity as a whole, irrespective of where one lives: Polar regions, remaining tropical rainforests, ocean marine system, world’s permafrost regions, temperate forests, and savannahs. Fifth and finally, many countries face growing water stress and must improve the integrated management of their water resources.
 
While this of course is not an exhaustive list of all that’s needed, these are a few critical steps that need to be taken to ensure sustainability.
 
Chandler: Especially as we reach the end of the MDG period in 2015, sustainable development has become an even more pressing issue, and one on which you are a global leader. How should the world tackle the sustainable development challenge? 
 
Sachs: No country can tackle the sustainable development challenges alone. Integrated solutions must be developed at local, national, regional and global levels. For this reason, the world’s governments have agreed at the Rio+20 Summit in 2012 to adopt Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as the global framework to follow the MDGs. 
 
Every country must rise to the challenge of sustainable development, especially because traditional distinctions between developed and developing countries and between donors and recipients are becoming blurred in the complex world in which we live. Likewise, businesses and civil society will need to adopt the SDGs and work together with governments to achieve them.  A compelling set of SDGs will be needed to mobilize all stakeholders, explain the challenges, focus operational action at the right scale, and form a basis for a true international partnership.  I am honoured to be directing the new UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network, under the auspices of UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, to assist the UN member states in devising the new framework. 
 
Sachs and Bono in Ghana 2012  




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