Ending Poverty in Africa: We Are Not There Yet
Jeffrey Sachs, director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University, is also an adviser to UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan on the UN Millennium Development Goals. He is author most recently of The End of Poverty (2005).
New York — Africa’s escape route from extreme poverty has now been charted. Several recent studies, including those by The New Partnership for Africa’s Development, the United Nations Millennium Report and British Prime Minister Tony Blair’s Commission for Africa, have all pointed in the same direction. Africa needs increased investments to rise out of pervasive hunger, disease and poverty. Those investments need to be funded partly by increased aid from the world’s rich countries. Europe has come on board. Now Africa’s fate rests with a recalcitrant White House.
Africa’s investment priorities lie in four main areas: health, education, agriculture and infrastructure.
The health needs are urgent and obvious. Africa needs to fight AIDS, malaria and other killers. Africa requires investments in clinics, health workers, medicines and preventative measures such as anti-malaria bed nets.
Education, too, is paramount. Tens of millions of children are not completing school. There are too few teachers, classrooms and supplies, and the children are kept at home by their parents in order to carry out farm chores.
African agriculture is woefully unproductive, because farmers lack the basic inputs for modern agriculture, notably small-scale irrigation, improved seeds and fertilizer.
And lastly, Africa’s infrastructure is notoriously insufficient, with a lack of rural electrification, safe drinking water, sanitation, paved roads and telecommunications.
All four of these crisis areas can be solved. The needed investments are known and practical. The problem is mainly that African countries cannot afford these investments on their own.
These financial needs are not expensive to meet for the rich countries of the world. Since the gross national product of the high-income donor countries is now around $30 trillion per year, the current $25 billion of aid is just 8 cents per every $100 of GNP of these countries. By 2010 the needed aid would rise to around 16 cents per $100 and by 2015 to around 22 cents per $100. All in all, Africa’s needs are urgent—indeed are matters of life and death—but are very, very modest relative to the incomes of the donor countries.
The most urgent problem lies with the extremely low amount of aid given by the United States. Europe has agreed to the needed increases for Africa, but the US has not. Despite being the world’s richest country, the US has been one of the world’s stingiest donors. In recent years, US aid to Africa has been a measly 3 cents per $100 of GNP. Even the 3 cents per $100 of US GNP overstates the real help coming from the US. A large portion of US aid is actually salaries of US consultants rather than funds that can be invested in Africa’s health, education, agriculture and infrastructure.
The announcement by the G-8 finance ministers that they will cancel the debts of 18 African countries is a step in the right direction, but it is a very modest step toward meeting Africa’s financing needs. The debt cancellation will save Africa about $1.5 billion in debt payments each year, but Africa will need an extra $25 billion per year in aid as of 2010. Thus, the debt cancellation represents less than 10 percent of Africa’s overall financing need.
It is obviously also a step in the right direction for the G-8 to commit to doubling aid to Africa, as it did at the Gleneagles Summit during the summer.
Yet, the truth remains that global poverty will not be solved until the US ends a foreign policy that spends hugely on the military but dramatically under-invests in peaceful approaches to global security. The US and the world will not be secure if the US persists in spending $500 billion per year on the military but only $3 billion per year on aid to Africa. No level of US military might will ensure US security when hundreds of millions of people are hungry, disease-ridden and without economic hopes.
By denying Africa even the basic level of aid that is needed, the US is leaving millions of Africans to die each year and threatening American and global security as well. The world’s leaders and citizens need to tell these basic truths to President George Bush in order for the US to fulfill its long-standing and unmet promise to be a true partner of Africa’s economic development.