Failing to Curb Global Poverty

''Millennium Development Goals'' is a phrase coined by U.N. leaders, meant to signify the commitment made by the world's wealthy nations to cut in half ''extreme poverty'' by 2015.

The Bush administration should be given credit for having the compassion to sign onto the U.N. Millennium Project.

But to paraphrase Jesus, President Bush's favorite political philosopher, talking the talk is not the same thing as walking the walk. ''Ye shall know them by their fruits'' (Matthew 7:16). The truth is: we ain't walking the walk.

Polls show that most Americans are deluded about how giving we really are, collectively. Consider the insights offered by the world-renowned economist, Dr. Jeffery Sachs, director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University and special advisor to U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan on the Millennium Project.

Sachs was named one of the 100 most influential leaders in the world by Time magazine and is author of The End of Poverty: Economic Possibilities for Our Time. Sachs points out that the U.S. gives the lowest amount of national income as official development assistance of any of the 22 donor countries in the Development Assistance Committee.

''Americans do not believe this, but it's true. Americans believe, when they're asked in opinion surveys how much aid we give, they believe first that the official aid is roughly 25 to 30 times what it actually is, and they believe that the private giving is many times more than the official giving. Both of these are simply wrong,'' he said.

The official giving this year will be about $16 billion of development assistance in a $12 trillion economy. That's about 0.15 percent of our gross national product.

Private charity will offer about $6 billion. If you add it all up total U.S. giving is about 0.2 percent, or about 20 cents of every 100 dollars.

In Monterrey, Mexico, Bush attended the conference in which the U.S. and other governments signed the Monterrey Consensus, agreeing ''to make concrete efforts towards the target of 0.7 percent of gross national income as official development assistance'' - the international standard the Bush administration signed up for.

But so far, ''there are no signs whatsoever of concrete efforts being made,'' Sachs reports. It's worth quoting him.

''In my book...I argue that not only are the Millennium Development Goals achievable, but in fact, by the year 2025...we could end extreme poverty on the planet.

''...Extreme poverty is the kind of poverty that afflicts about a billion people on the planet and leaves them so desperately poor that they can't meet their basic needs, so that every day is nothing less than a struggle for survival.

''People in extreme poverty are chronically hungry (and) don't have access to safe drinking water and sanitation. (No) access to emergency health care or preventative health care, something as simple as a bed net treated with insecticide to help repel the mosquitoes that transmit malaria,'' Sachs said.

''Most of our public response to this has been to ignore it. When we do focus attention on it, we tend to give lectures to very poor people based on assumptions in Washington about what this extreme poverty is about...that the poor have only themselves to blame, or only their corrupt leaders.

''The president has said freedom a thousand times without saying poverty once, as far as I know, and he doesn't understand that a lot of these poor and dying people are living in free countries.'' Sachs offers not only a long-term view but also suggests a few ''quick wins'' that could be realized more immediately. For those who want to move beyond ''freedom'' rhetoric and actually do something, Sachs' insights are indispensable. (To read the entire Sachs interview go to

Enjoy this piece?

… then let us make a small request. AlterNet’s journalists work tirelessly to counter the traditional corporate media narrative. We’re here seven days a week, 365 days a year. And we’re proud to say that we’ve been bringing you the real, unfiltered news for 20 years—longer than any other progressive news site on the Internet.

It’s through the generosity of our supporters that we’re able to share with you all the underreported news you need to know. Independent journalism is increasingly imperiled; ads alone can’t pay our bills. AlterNet counts on readers like you to support our coverage. Did you enjoy content from David Cay Johnston, Common Dreams, Raw Story and Robert Reich? Opinion from Salon and Jim Hightower? Analysis by The Conversation? Then join the hundreds of readers who have supported AlterNet this year.

Every reader contribution, whatever the amount, makes a tremendous difference. Help ensure AlterNet remains independent long into the future. Support progressive journalism with a one-time contribution to AlterNet, or click here to become a subscriber. Thank you. Click here to donate by check.

DonateDonate by credit card


Thanks for your support!

Did you enjoy AlterNet this year? Join us! We're offering AlterNet ad-free for 15% off - just $2 per week. From now until March 15th.