By Jeffrey Sachs
At a time when the headlines are filled with financial crises and violence, it is especially important to recognize the creativity of many governments in fighting poverty, disease and hunger. The point is not merely to make ourselves feel a little better, but rather to confront one of the world’s gravest threats: the widespread pessimism that today’s problems are too big to be solved. Studying the successes gives us the knowledge and confidence to step up our shared efforts to solve today’s great global challenges.
Hats off first to Mexico for pioneering the idea of “conditional cash transfers” to poor households. These transfers enable and encourage those households to invest in their children’s health, nutrition, and schooling. Mexico’s “Opportunities Program,” led by Mexican President Felipe Calderon, is now being widely emulated around Latin America. Recently, at the behest of the singers Shakira and Alejandro Sanz and a social movement that they lead, all of Latin America’s leaders committed to step up the region’s programs for early childhood development, based on the successes that have been proven to date.
Norway, under the leadership of Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg, is maintaining its tradition of creative social and environmental leadership. The government has put together a global alliance to prevent maternal death in childbirth, investing in both safe delivery and survival of newborns. At the same time, Norway launched an innovative US$1 billion program with Brazil to induce poor communities in the Amazon to end rampant deforestation. Cleverly, Norway pays out the funds to Brazil only upon proven success in avoiding deforestation (compared with an agreed baseline).
Spain, under the leadership of Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, has given a major stimulus to helping the poorest countries to achieve the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). Spain created a new MDG Fund at the UN to promote the cooperation needed within the UN to address the various challenges of the MDGs.
The Spanish Government rightly proposed that true solutions to poverty require simultaneous investments in health, education, agriculture, and infrastructure and then the Spanish put up the funds to help make that integrated vision a practical reality. Spain will host a meeting in January to launch a new fight against global hunger. Once again, Spain is proposing practical and innovative means to move from talk to action, specifically to help impoverished peasant farmers to get the tools, seeds, and fertilizer that they need to increase their farm productivity, incomes, and food security.
Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has similarly surged to the forefront of global problem solving, putting forward a bold action plan on climate change and proposing new and practical means to address the MDGs. Australia put real money on the table for increased food production, along the lines that Spain is proposing. It also champions an increased program of action for the poor and environmentally threatened island economies of the Pacific region.
These efforts have been matched by actions in the poorest countries. The landlocked and impoverished country of Malawi, under the leadership of President Bingu wa Mutharika, has doubled its annual food production since 2005 through a pioneering effort to help its poorest farmers. The program has been so successful that it is being emulated across Africa.