The New Humanitarian Annual Report 2021

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Interview with Prof Jeffrey Sachs, UN special adviser on Millenium Goals

[Ethiopia] Prof Jeffrey Sachs, UN special adviser on Millenium Goals.
This is the time for Africa to escape from poverty, said Prof Jeffrey Sachs (Anthony Mitchell/IRIN)

Professor Jeffrey Sachs is a special adviser to the UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, heading the Millennium Project – eight anti-poverty goals which the world aims to meet by 2015. Here he tells IRIN about Ethiopia's priorities in meeting these goals.

QUESTION: What is needed to achieve the Millennium Development Goals?

ANSWER: Two things: a solid national strategy and strong international support for that strategy. Countries need to make good strategic assessments on how to achieve more growth and how to invest more in critical areas like health and education, water and sanitation, roads and power. The rich countries need to recognise the urgency of vastly increased donor assistance and better rules for international trade, debt management, and international finance to empower the poor countries to achieve more progress towards these goals.

Q: What are the implications if they are not met?

A: The implications are stark. The MDGs are not just a matter of convenience or being a little bit better off or worse off. We are talking about the situation of the world’s poorest people, people for whom poverty is a matter of life and death. We are talking about people who die by the millions around the world because they are too poor to stay alive right now.

Q: Which countries are failing?

A: In this year’s Human Development Report we identify the top priority countries. These are countries where the conditions are of extreme impoverishment and where there is very little progress and in many cases regress, where countries are falling back because of disease, because of environmental degradation, increasing water scarcity, increasing climatic variability, soils that are weakened and have lost nutrients and so on. In our focus of these top priority countries we found that sub-Saharan Africa far and away is really the epicentre of the MDG crisis.

Q: Which rich nations are failing to meet these needs?

A: In general the level of donor assistance is flagrantly inadequate compared to what has been promised and compared to what is needed. The donor countries have repeatedly promised that they would take concrete steps towards the 0.7 of one percent of GNP development assistance goal. That would be US $175 billion a year but we are stuck at about US $50 billion a year right now. There are some small steps of increase in many countries but not the breakthrough that is needed. And in terms of how far countries are from this international goal, the United States unfortunately is the farthest away.

Q: What role does good governance and democratic reform play in meeting the MDGs?

A: There is no question that countries need good strategies and international support – both sides of the equation. Good strategies include good governance. Lawless countries, countries with despots as their leaders, countries where mass corruption takes away any possibility of organised and orderly investments in health, education and roads. Those countries won’t make it.

Q: Is Ethiopia a well-governed country?

A: Ethiopia is a well-governed country that struggles at US $100 per capita. Thank goodness there is peace now. There are a lot of policy choices to be made like issues of rural investment, issues of the land system in this country, issues of where to prioritise investments. But for a country struggling at US $100 per capita, this country has a government that is development orientated, a prime minister committed to these goals and yet the burdens on this country are vast... Things will not get better here unless there is a dramatic change in how the donors
perform. Last year, the United States generously gave US $500 million of food aid but at the same time only US $4 million help in raising agricultural activity. This is treating the emergency but not treating the underlying conditions, and that will never solve the problem.

Q: What policies would you like to see in place in Ethiopia?

A: I would like to see vast increases of investment in primary health, education, water control in the countryside, rural roads, other agricultural productivity measures and power for energy for the country - for instance cooking fuels using liquid petroleum gas rather than firewood. I would also like to see a strong population control policy, and I don’t think that is adequately in place right now, because with the fertility rate still at six children per woman, this country - which is already in such a desperate condition - has one of the fastest rates of population growth in the whole world.

Q: Does Ethiopia’s poverty reduction strategy paper go far enough?

A: I have seen the PRSP and I don’t think yet it reaches the scale of ambition that it needs to reach...Their strategies for growth should have ways to raise rural productivity dramatically.
The government is on that path but it needs more resources to succeed. It needs a strategy of where Ethiopia can compete on world markets, this is very important. Ethiopia only sells two goods primarily to world markets right now: coffee and leather. Those will not be enough for long term growth so Ethiopia has to compete in new areas – maybe new agricultural products, maybe textiles, maybe more tourism.

Q: How much is needed for Ethiopia to meet the 2015 MDGs?

A: Ethiopia will not come close to the MDGs unless the donors dramatically increase their development assistance and it is well invested by the national government with civil society participating broadly. Right now development assistance is about US $1 billion a year. I think a country like Ethiopia needs probably something in the order of US $5 billion a year to have
a real go at things, and for a country of 70 million people that is not an unrealistic amount by any means... Right now the way that Ethiopia’s relations with the donors tends to work is
‘Here’s what we are giving you, how would you use it?’ What I am saying is ‘Let’s calculate what is needed and then how can we get that amount’. I want to turn the equation around.

This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information:

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