Monday, September 04, 2006

The End of Poverty

While I was on my New Orleans trip, I read The End of Poverty, by economist Jeffrey Sachs. My biggest takeaway from the book was that over 1 billion people in the world live (and die) on less than $1 per day. An additional 1+ billion people live on between $1 and $2 per day. In other words, over two billion people live in either extreme poverty (<$1/day) or moderate poverty (<$2/day). I've often heard people make the argument that we have poverty right here in the United States, so we don't need to go across the ocean to care for those in poverty. And having recently been in New Orleans, I see we definitely have needy people. However, poor Americans live in relative poverty, not extreme poverty, and they have welfare and other infrastructure to help them meet basic needs such as clean water and food. The 2+ billion people in extreme to moderate poverty often have no way to meet even their basic needs. Author Jeffrey Sachs argues that the world can eradicate extreme poverty by the year 2025.

The richest countries of the world have already set Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) that would cut poverty in half by the year 2015. However, one issue is that these goals are currently a somewhat underfunded mandate since 0.44 percent of global Gross Domestic Product (GDP) would need to be spent on international aid to reach the goals, whereas today only 0.33 percent of global GDP is being spent on international aid. The same rich countries that agreed to the MDGs have also set a target of 0.7 percent of GDP for international aid, yet only five countries (Denmark, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Norway, Sweden) had reached the 0.7 percent target as of August 2006.

At the end of the book, I found myself wondering how to help with extreme poverty, since Mr. Sachs suggests it all comes down to countries funding the initiatives. Given his focus on countries' efforts, I figured one of the best things I can do is to write my political leaders and urge them to spend the 0.7 percent of GDP that has already been targeted (the US currently spends only 0.22 percent of its GDP on international aid). On Mr. Sachs' web site, he confirms that writing to political leaders is one excellent way to fight poverty, and he lists a few other practical considerations in the fight. I, for one, plan to do additional research on non-profit organizations that I believe are worth donating to and volunteering for along the way to a world free from extreme poverty.

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