Global poverty can be cut in half by 2015 and eliminated by 2025 if the world's richest countries -- including the US, Japan and Germany -- more than double aid to the poorest countries, according to a UN-sponsored report.
It's a matter of life or death for tens of millions of impoverished people, according to the report, released Monday, by 265 of the world's leading development experts.
The so-called Millennium Project initiated by UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan spells out the investments needed to meet UN goals adopted by world leaders at the Millennium Summit in 2000 to tackle poverty, hunger and disease and promote education and development, mainly in African and Asian countries.
"What we're proposing is a strategy of investment to help empower the lives of very poor people that lack the tools and sometimes even the basic means to stay alive, much less be productive members of a fast-paced world economy," said Professor Jeffrey Sachs, head of the UN anti-poverty effort and lead author of the report.
The investments range from schools, clinics, safe water and sanitation to fertilizer, roads, electricity and transport to get goods to market.
"The system is not working right now -- let's be clear," he said. "There's a tremendous imbalance of focus on the issues of war and peace, and less on the dying and suffering of the poor who have no voice."
In a world of food mountains, 1 billion people live on US$1 a day or less and 1.8 billion more live on just US$2 a day, many going to bed hungry every night. Life expectancy in the poorest countries is half that in high-income countries, around 40 instead of 80, the report said. And every month, for example, 150,000 African children die of malaria because they don't have bed nets to keep out mosquitos, a tragedy Sachs called the "silent tsunami."
In 1970, the world's nations agreed to provide 0.7 percent of their gross national income for development assistance, and that figure was reaffirmed by the UN conference on financing development in Monterey, Mexico in 2002.
So far, only five countries have met or surpassed the target -- Denmark, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway and Sweden. Six others have made commitments to reach the target by 2015 -- Belgium, Finland, France, Ireland, Spain and Britain.
But 11 of the 22 richest donors, according to the Paris-based Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, are far from the target and have not set timetables to reach it including the US, Japan and Germany.
If all 22 rich countries come up with the money, more than 500 million people can escape from poverty and tens of millions can avoid certain death in the next decade, the report said.
If the countries kept up the 0.7 percent level of aid-giving for another decade, it said, "by 2025 extreme poverty can be substantially eliminated" for the remaining 500 million people surviving on a dollar a day.
"Our generation for the first time in human history really could see to it that extreme poverty on the planet is ended, not just by half but ended by the year 2025," Sachs said.
"We are not asking for one new promise from any country in the world, only the follow-through on what has already been committed," he stessed.
But trying to get the US and the other rich nations to double or triple the amount of development assistance they now give is expected to be an uphill struggle -- and the target of a major lobbying effort.