UN: Ending Poverty, Environmental Restoration Within Reach

NEW YORK, New York, January 19, 2005 (ENS) - The rich nations of the world have the means and the money – but not the will - to dramatically improve the lives of the world’s poor and heal the environment, according to a major new report from the United Nations.

The report from the UN Millennium Project urges the developed nations to double their aid to impoverished countries if they intend to fulfill a pledge to cut global poverty in half by 2015.

“The system is not working now,” said economist Jeffrey Sachs, director of the UN Millennium Project.


Economist Jeffrey Sachs is director of the United Nations Millennium Project. (Photo courtesy )
“The overwhelming reality on our planet is that impoverished people get sick and die for lack of access to basic practical means that could help keep them alive and do more than that – help them achieve livelihoods and escape poverty.”

One of the eight UN Millennium Goals is specifically related to the environment, maintaining that without a healthy and secure environment many of the other goals will be tough to achieve.

The divide between rich and poor is deep and wide. More than half of the world’s six billion people live on less than $2 a day.

More than one billion live on less than $1 a day and lack the safe water, proper nutrition, basic health care and social services needed to survive.

Some 11 million children die each year, 6 million of them under the age of five from preventable diseases, 500,000 women do not survive pregnancy or childbirth, and there are presently 40 million people living with HIV/AIDS.

Addressing these issues is the focus of the UN’s Millennium Development Goals.

Announced in 2000, the goals aim to halve global poverty and malnutrition, slash infant and maternal mortality, and boost access to health care and education, all by 2015.

The report, which is the product of three years of work by more than 260 international experts, outlines a “concrete plan” for meeting these lofty targets, Sachs said.

“The experts who contributed to this huge undertaking have shown without a doubt that we can still meet the goals – if we start putting this plan into effect,” he said.

The report says that low-income countries need investments of $70 to $80 per head per year from 2006, rising to $120 to $160 per year in 2015.


This woman in Basra, Iraq has difficulty cooking - ingredients are few and prices are rising. (Photo by Antonia Paradela courtesy WFP)
Targeted investments in essential public services such as health, education and infrastructure will make poor communities less vulnerable to disasters and to the hardships of disease, hunger and environmental degradation.

“A considerable body of scientific data points to environmental degradation - the erosion of genetic diversity, the loss of species, the degradation of ecosystems, and the decline of ecosystem services - as a direct cause of many of the most pressing issues we face today, including poverty, declining human health, hunger, undrinkable water, emerging diseases, rural-urban migration and civil strife,” says the environmental section of the report, "Environment and Human Well-Being: A Practical Strategy."

UN Environment Programme Executive Director Klaus Toepfer, who is currently in Kobe, Japan, attending the World Conference on Disaster Reduction, said, “The environment has for too long been the poor relation to economic growth. Conserving the environment, be it rivers and lakes, forests, the atmosphere or the oceans, has all too often been seen as a luxury which is only addressed when all other issues have been resolved. But this very welcome report makes it clear that real, long lasting and secure development can only be achieved if the environment is put at the center of decisionmaking.”

Toepfer said the Earth’s life support systems, worth trillions of dollars a year, are being denuded, degraded and damaged often without a thought to the value and services they provide for current and future generations.

“A wetland area may be on the one hand a wonderful watering hole for hippos and elephants and resting and feeding area for birds. But it is also a vital water storage and flood control system as well as a natural, low cost, purifier of polluting agricultural and human wastes,” he explained.


Mother and daughter pick berries in a forest in Finland. (Photo by Erkki Oksanen courtesy The Finnish Research Institute/Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Finland)
“The same goes for forests. These are not only beautiful places in which to walk and reflect. They supply wood for shelter and fuel, natural medicines and food for local people, soak up carbon from the air and harbor a wealth of genetic materials that may prove crucial to current and future science. The same arguments can be made for coral reefs and mangroves, for flower meadows and mountains, for peatlands and tundras,” said Toepfer.

“Our motto for three years has been environment for development. The report points out that, although many of these nature-based services are free, they are worth trillions of dollars a year. Therefore investments in conservation and anti-pollution measures are not frivolous luxuries, they are critical for the survival of our species, the planet upon which we depend and the health and prosperity of its six billion inhabitants,” said Toepfer.

Toepfer e said the report’s findings would enrich discussions and decisions taken by environment ministers at UNEP’s upcoming Governing Council taking place in Nairobi February 21 to 25.

These will in turn be part of UNEP’s submissions to a high-level summit of the UN General Assembly on the Goals taking place in New York in September.

The Millennium Project’s environment report makes a series of key recommendations on how to reverse the loss of forests and plant and animal species and restore healthy land, air and water in order to meet the Goals and the World Summit on Sustainable Development’s Plan of Implementation drawn up three years ago in Johannesburg, South Africa.

These include:

The authors say many middle-income countries could fund those investments themselves, given adequate debt relief and appropriate, specialized technical assistance.

The report details a number of “quick wins” that could rapidly improve and save the lives of millions, including expanded medical treatment for people suffering from AIDS and tuberculosis, additional school lunch programs, and broad distribution of insecticide-treated bed nets to combat malaria.

Developing nations must take steps to help their populations, according to the report, Sachs added.

“Lawless countries led by corrupt leaders are incapable of investing resources in health, education and roads,” he said. “Increased international support should go to countries that have demonstrated good governance, to countries that are trying to open up their economies, to reform their political systems, and to combat corruption.”


Rapid depletion of natural resources, partly due to growing human and livestock population and due to adoption of nonsustainable practices, has affected the poor, marginalized and landless people, especially women such as this Indian woman. (Photo by Mauricio Rosales courtesy FAO)
The report recommends reforms to ease trade barriers and an overhaul of the international development system, which it found broadly to be too often unfocused and inefficient.

Only 30 cents of each dollar of international aid actually reaches on the ground investment programs in poor countries aimed at extreme poverty, hunger and disease.

The funds needed from rich nations would hardly break the bank - the authors describe the investment as “utterly affordable.”

The report calls for an investment of 0.54 percent of gross national product from the industrialized world – Sachs said the investment would total about 50 cents out of every $100 of income.

But past promises of the world’s rich underscore the scope of the shortfall.

Although industrialized nations of the world agreed in 1969 – and again in 2002 - to contribute 0.7 of gross national product (GNP) to development aid, few have come anywhere near to that pledge.

Only five nations – Denmark, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway and Sweden – have met the target, and the overall aid from the industrialized world totals $68.5 billion, a figure equal to only 0.25 of total GNP.

Six other nations have pledged to increase aid to 0.7 of GNP by 2015, but the United States has yet to follow suit.

The United States earmarks only 0.15 percent of its GNP for development aid, a total that equals some $16 billion.

By contrast, the United States military budget is more than $380 billion.

Sachs contends that helping the poor out of poverty is not just an exercise in kindness, it is a vital step toward making the world a safer place for all nations.

"Breaking the poverty trap of the poorest countries is a matter of extreme urgency for our security,” said Sachs. “When people lack access to food, medical care, safe drinking water and a chance at a better future, their societies are likely to experience instability.”

The world’s generous response to the tsunami shows that individual citizens do support aid to the poor if they see the need and believe the funds will be well spent, Sachs added.

But there remains “a tremendous imbalance of focus on the issues of war and peace, and less on the dying and suffering of the poor,” he said.

UN Secretary Kofi Annan said the report provides a critical blueprint for member nations to implement the Millennium Goals.

The topic will be discussed at a meeting in September, Annan said, and he expressed high hopes it will produce "bold and far-reaching decisions … to put in place the building blocks for a safer, more prosperous world."

The Millennium Goals report can be found at: http://www.un.org/millenniumgoals/