Monday, August 17, 2009

How the Millennium Villages got started

A very long profile of Jeffrey Sachs can be found in the Globe and Mail.

The article gives us a history of his work. One of the youngest to ever receive tenure at Harvard, Sachs was used by some governments in Europe to solve hyper-inflation and other economic problems. Since then, Sachs was called on by the United Nations to solve the problems of poverty.

For our snippet, writer Stephanie Nolen gives us the history of the Millenium Villages project.

The United Nations General Assembly had adopted a list of targets, the Millennium Development Goals, which aimed to cut extreme poverty in half by 2015. But it was clear by 2002 that many of the poorest countries, particularly in Africa, were not on track to meet the targets and, in many cases, were headed in the other direction.

That year, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan appointed Prof. Sachs, then the director of a big-budget Columbia University think-tank called the Earth Institute, as his special adviser on the Millennium Goals, charged with drawing up a blueprint, complete with price tags, to meet them.

He delivered his plan in January, 2005. But he added a twist: He wanted to demonstrate, in his test-tube villages, that it could be done.

They started in Sauri because it had so many of the typical characteristics of extreme poverty. Two-thirds of its people were living on less than $1 a day, a quarter of them with HIV-AIDS, almost half infected with malaria parasites and half the children victims of chronic poor nutrition.

In addition, the community had some history of working with international organizations, which Prof. Sachs believed would remove several steps of groundwork.

In August, 2004, they met with the villagers, whom Prof. Sachs said were wildly enthusiastic. They also got a warm nod from the government of Kenya, which promised to support the project's infrastructure needs, with paved roads and an extended electrical grid. Medical advisers began testing everyone for malaria. The soil experts started analyzing samples.

Six months after Sauri, they went to Koraro in the desolate Ethiopian highlands. And now, the Millennium Villages Project is six months into setting up in Ghana, Malawi, Mali, Nigeria, Senegal, Tanzania, Rwanda and Uganda.

Each village is located in a distinct environmental zone. Some have farmers, some nomadic herders; some are chronically short of water, some in an equatorial fug. Each poses particular problems in terms of disease, agriculture and infrastructure.

These factors of geography help explain why so much of Africa remains terribly poor: Having endemic malaria all year long and being 15,000 kilometres from a railway line are huge issues, not just a local quirk.

Work has also begun on expanding the Sauri interventions to 10 surrounding villages, and in Malawi the plan has been rolled out to 13 villages around the original one. The goal is to cover 560,000 people by the end of this year.

"We're running because we think every country needs this push. And we're running because we're trying an interesting thought experiment — treating the Millennium Development Goals as real and not just a nice thing," Prof. Sachs said during a recent visit to Kenya.

"I'm kind of desperately rushing, hurrying everyone to the point of distraction, because I'm watching the clock — because every year lost is 10 million deaths. I can't believe we live in a world like that. I can't understand why it's not the biggest damn cause on the planet."

2 comments:

Nicholas said...

Was this article really published on Monday? It says April 5, 2009 when you link to it at the Globe and Mail website. I love the article, but just wondering if it's brand new or a few months old.

Kale said...

hmmm... I guess I was in error there Nicholas, thank you for calling it to my attention, I will edit the post.