With over a billion people in the world starving and almost a third of the world’s children malnourished, something must be done about poverty in poor nations.
The UN created the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) in 2000 to attack poverty on several fronts such as income, hunger, disease, education, environment and exclusion.
We hear a lot about how governments need to increase their aid to 0.7% of Gross National Income (GNI) to achieve the objective.
But achievement would not come by money alone. Sustained and diverse development assistance that takes into account local conditions, along with measurable targets and regular evaluations are equally important.
In 2001, the UN asked Columbia University Economist, Jeffrey Sachs, to head the Millennium Project and devise an implementation plan for the MDGs.
The Project named 449 interventions, and said that the international community must advance simultaneously by 2015.
Sachs’ philosophy is commonly called the “Big Push.”
He advocated substantial investment in developing countries, over a short period of time to propel poor countries into development.
The problem is that such a strategy runs the risk of assuming one grand plan and does not account for diverse conditions of poverty in different countries.
As fellow economist William Easterly suggested, larger aid does not necessarily lead to higher investment and growth. He said higher aid can sometimes even negate both investment and growth, ultimately encouraging ongoing poverty.
In 2009, Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame called for a new approach to development assistance, with rich and poor countries working together using the potential of the globalised market.
“This approach should embrace and harness diversity, instead of trying to roll one solution out in every place,” he said.
This approach is different from that of Sachs and the Millennium Project.
Development assistance can make a difference, but we must not be naive about the challenges involved or the commitment required.
The aspirations of the MDGs must be connected with thoughtful approaches to development if we are to see them turned from a dream into reality.