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The Millenium Project.

Byline: The Register-Guard

Of all the challenges in the global effort to combat extreme poverty, none is more daunting than the pervasive conviction that nothing can be done to bring about meaningful long-term change. It's a bleak perspective, one that ensures that the world's poor and hungry will get poorer and hungrier.

A compelling new United Nations report makes a convincing case that such pessimism is unwarranted. Produced by team of 265 international development experts, the report claims that the world's wealthy nations can end extreme poverty - not all poverty, mind you, but extreme poverty - within a single decade by taking the simple, achievable step of fulfilling their existing pledges to increase development aid.

It's a stunning conclusion. The report merits the full attention of developed nations, including the United States, that for too long have paid inadequate attention to the needs of the world's poor - and to the increasingly clear nexus between poverty and political instability, conflict and terrorism.

The report by the U.N. Millenium Project says drastic reductions in hunger, illiteracy, disease and other manifestations of poverty are not only feasible, but are "utterly affordable." All that's required is for industrialized nations to double aid to poor countries from their current collective average of a quarter of a percent of their national incomes to a half of 1 percent.

The money, combined with other measures such as easing trade barriers, would be invested in areas such as education, health, rural development, road building, scientific research and improving slums. But the specific strategies are far less important than the report's counterintuitively optimistic conclusion, one that was endorsed by top officials at the International Monetary Fund and World Bank - a pin-striped group not exactly prone to flights of anti-poverty fancy.

While the report is hopeful, it is neither naive nor unrealistic. It recognizes the need for a major overhaul of a dysfunctional international development system that delivers less than a third of every aid dollar to relief programs on the ground in poor countries. While the report recognizes that corruption in some countries blocks effective use of aid, it notes that there are dozens of poverty-stricken countries with relatively sound governments that are literally starving for international assistance.

To debunk the notion that the challenges of impoverished nations are overwhelming, the report offers a list of "quick wins" - relatively simple and cost-effective projects that can have a dramatic impact on saving and improving lives in poor countries.

The list includes an initiative to combat malaria, which currently claims the lives of 150,000 children every month. An investment of a mere $2 for every American, with equivalent contributions from citizens of the world's other wealthy nations, is all that's needed to purchase the mosquito nets, provide the clean water and supply the inoculations necessary to control the disease. It's a potentially huge payoff for a relatively small expenditure, one the report calls the greatest bargain on the planet.

Setting aside the recent understandable defensiveness of Americans about this country's response to the Asian tsunami disaster, the time has come for the United States to increase the amount it gives to development assistance.

Five years ago, the developed nations of the world promised to move toward a goal of giving 0.7 percent of their gross national products for development aid. So far only five countries - Sweden, Norway, the Netherlands, Luxembourg and Denmark - have met that modest, achievable goal. Britain has committed to doubling its aid over the next eight years to meet the target. Meanwhile, the United States currently earmarks 0.15 percent of GNP, not including private donations - the smallest percentage among the world's major donor countries.

The recent global response of public and private generosity to the tsunami disaster provides a graphic example of the capability and willingness of the United States, and the rest of the world, to respond to an international crisis.

One of the primary reasons that the world so far hasn't made a similar effort - and investment - to confront the crisis of global poverty is the underlying belief that there is little hope of making a difference. The Millenium Project report rightly concludes that the struggle is not hopeless; it's merely one that requires commitment.
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Title Annotation:Editorials; Report says fight against poverty winnable
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Article Type:Editorial
Date:Jan 21, 2005
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