Thursday, April 06, 2006 : Millennium Man

As a fan of Professor Sachs approach who, by the way, is also Bono's (of U2) mentor, I highly recommend reading this description of a successful development project based on his principles.... : Millennium Man: "Sauri, Kenya — Jeffrey Sachs is standing in the thick red dirt of a field in Kenya, surrounded by gleaming waist-high cassava plants, and one begins to picture him in a white lab coat.

Imagine him lifting a narrow test tube to the light, squinting one blue eye while he swirls the contents: Sprinkle in a fistful of fertilizer, stuff in the gossamer panels of a mosquito net. Scrape in a plate of beans, some plastic tarp, a pill or two, some gaunt and weary Kenyan grannies. Add water. Shake briskly.

End poverty.

The village of Sauri, not far from the shores of Lake Victoria, is the famed U.S. economist's test tube, the pilot site for an audacious experiment in poverty alleviation he plans to roll out all over Africa.

It is Sauri that, a year and a half after the experiment began, is showing the results Prof. Sachs says vindicate his claims: Malaria is down by half, school performance has shot up, harvests have tripled.

'Things are very different for us now,' Edwina Odit, a hunched and weathered 58-year-old farmer, said with simple understatement.

The conventional wisdom on aid these days is that it doesn't work. Only trade and economic growth will lift people out of poverty. It's the 'rising tide' theory, that the prosperity born of globalization will come to lift all boats."...

If he were anybody else, his plan wouldn't be getting any attention at all.

Over the past 25 years, Jeffrey Sachs has done the near-impossible, injecting the world of economics with a quality that verges on glamour. He is the jet-set, go-to economist, with the ear of governments and powerful people, squashing inflation here and yanking a creaking communist economy into the market era there. Tickets to his lectures are scalped on eBay....

They started in Sauri because it had so many of the typical characteristics of extreme poverty. Two-thirds of its people were living on less than $1 a day, a quarter of them with HIV-AIDS, almost half infected with malaria parasites and half the children victims of chronic poor nutrition.

In addition, the community had some history of working with international organizations, which Prof. Sachs believed would remove several steps of groundwork.

In August, 2004, they met with the villagers, whom Prof. Sachs said were wildly enthusiastic. They also got a warm nod from the government of Kenya, which promised to support the project's infrastructure needs, with paved roads and an extended electrical grid. Medical advisers began testing everyone for malaria. The soil experts started analyzing samples.

Six months after Sauri, they went to Koraro in the desolate Ethiopian highlands. And now, the Millennium Villages Project is six months into setting up in Ghana, Malawi, Mali, Nigeria, Senegal, Tanzania, Rwanda and Uganda.

Each village is located in a distinct environmental zone. Some have farmers, some nomadic herders; some are chronically short of water, some in an equatorial fug. Each poses particular problems in terms of disease, agriculture and infrastructure.

These factors of geography help explain why so much of Africa remains terribly poor: Having endemic malaria all year long and being 15,000 kilometres from a railway line are huge issues, not just a local quirk....

"We're running because we think every country needs this push. And we're running because we're trying an interesting thought experiment — treating the Millennium Development Goals as real and not just a nice thing," Prof. Sachs said during a recent visit to Kenya.

"I'm kind of desperately rushing, hurrying everyone to the point of distraction, because I'm watching the clock — because every year lost is 10 million deaths. I can't believe we live in a world like that. I can't understand why it's not the biggest damn cause on the planet."...

"I would like Prof. Sachs to look at the faces of Sauri people. They are shining because they are not hungry any more," Monicah Oketch, an imposing woman who is the chair of the local council, boomed in Kiswahili...
People in Sauri are quick to talk about how much has changed. Edwina Odit, for example, declares herself very happy. "We got food and planted fallow, which we have never done before. And we were given ground nuts and soy beans [to plant], although these were destroyed by drought. It is a big difference compared to past years."

Ms. Odit had grown 10 bags of maize, compared to three the year before. She gave one bag to the school, where it will be used to make the school lunches for her six orphaned grandchildren.

"The project gave us fertilizer, and that was the biggest factor in the high yield," she said. "Plus, we used to plant just anyhow. After the project came, they taught us how to use ropes in spacing, and when we did this, the result was more harvest."

It was the first instruction in farming technique she had ever had.

"When I was very young, I saw one big harvest or another, but since I was married, I have not seen a harvest like this. . . . I longed to buy fertilizer, but had no means."

Because she now sleeps under a bed net with her grandchildren, no one has had malaria in a year — a miracle in itself. There have been no costly trips to the regional hospital, no one rendered unable to help with the chores.

When someone does fall ill with a minor ailment, they go for free treatment at the little local clinic, built with the assistance of the Millennium Project and staffed by health workers it has trained and paid....
Even so, the Sachs formula runs completely counter to most of the ideas that now dominate international development. Many even see it as heretical, coming from a man who has championed the free market.

In particular, the idea of buying so much stuff goes against the grain. It is derided by all those who say that 50 years of aid to Africa has been squandered by dictators, bloated bureaucracies and corrupt leaders, leaving the continent worse off than ever.

That kind of talk enrages Prof. Sachs.

"The whole development discussion has become unhinged from ground realities. There is endless discussion about process and corruption and governance, as if these are realities of life in Africa — and it's all deflected attention away from things like growing food, and drinking water," he said.

He sees condescension at the root of the argument that all aid is futile. "It starts from the fundamental idea that the problem in Africa is that people just don't take care of themselves or their money, and if we could just give them courses in decency . . ."

"The problem here," he adds with a sigh, "is extreme poverty and biophysical conditions — soil depletion, malarial endemicity. It's not about people's decency or not. That's the case for aid."

1 comment:

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Related Posts with Thumbnails