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U.N. adviser says millions will die if promises to Africa go unfulfilled

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

NAIROBI, Kenya -- Promises of aid to Africa must be kept in 2006 or millions of people will die needlessly, the top U.N. adviser on poverty said Monday while insisting that every penny must be accounted for to ensure it is used properly.

Jeffrey Sachs, who is director of the U.N. Millennium Project and special adviser to Secretary-General Kofi Annan, called 2005 the year of promises, after the leaders of the world's wealthiest countries promised to double aid to Africa.

"2006 has to be the year of real action on the ground," Sachs, an economist who teaches at Harvard University, said.

"Significant, targeted investments [aimed] at raising food production in Africa, at addressing urgent health needs, at making investments in water management would allow an escape from what is now a seemingly endless cycle of disaster."

But donors will condemn millions to death if they again fail to deliver on their aid pledges, he said.

"This missing aid, which was promised by donors for so long but not yet delivered, is really a life and death issue, nothing less than that," he said.

Critics have said that aid to Africa has been largely wasted through widespread corruption and that there is no reason to believe new aid would not also be misused. Sachs argued that rich countries have themselves misspent aid money and have never lived up to their promise, made in 1970, to spend 0.7 percent of their gross national products to help poor countries.

"If they follow through on that, there is enough [money] to overcome the hunger deficit; to fight malaria, AIDS, tuberculosis and other killer diseases; to build basic infrastructure and to enable impoverished countries to start climbing the ladder of development," he said.

Sachs cited a project he has been directing in Kenya called the Millennium Village Project as an example of how aid can be successful, if a comprehensive and accountable approach is taken. He said food production had risen more than 300 percent and the village was working its way out of absolute poverty.

His stop in Kenya was part of a six-country African tour promoting the Millennium Village approach with the goal of instituting it elsewhere.

"If we take a proper, hardheaded and businesslike approach to the issues of disease, poverty and hunger, there are practical solutions," Sachs told the AP.

"They don't involve blank checks coming from donor countries to poor countries, they don't involve the other side haranguing poor countries about their poverty."

Sachs said most Americans vastly underestimate how much the U.S. government spends on aid to poor countries.

"The United States, for all of Africa, is spending something like $4 billion this year, and a lot of that is on American consultants, so most of that doesn't really reach Africa," he said. "That is for a $10 trillion economy."

He said that if the cost of food purchased from American farmers and money spent within the United States is subtracted, less than one penny out of every $100 actually makes it to Africa in aid.

"We should not be giving aid when it will not work, we should be giving aid when it is going to be managed transparently, fairly and accountably," Sachs said.

"We should not give blank checks and we should not believe we run other people's countries."


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