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[casi] Weapons of Mass Salvation (26 Oct 02)

Source: Jeffrey Sachs, “Weapons of Mass Salvation”, Economist, 26 October


IF GEORGE BUSH spent more time and money on mobilising Weapons of Mass
Salvation (WMS) in addition to combating Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD),
we might actually get somewhere in making this planet a safer and more
hospitable home. WMD can kill millions and their spread to dangerous hands
needs to be opposed resolutely. WMS, in contrast, are the arsenal of
life-saving vaccines, medicines and health interventions, emergency food aid
and farming technologies that could avert literally millions of deaths each
year in the wars against epidemic disease, drought and famine. Yet while the
Bush administration is prepared to spend $100 billion to rid Iraq of WMD, it
has been unwilling to spend more than 0.2% of that sum ($200m) this year on
the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. The great leaders
of the second world war alliance, Franklin Roosevelt and Winston Churchill,
understood the twin sides of destruction and salvation. Their war aims were
not only to defeat fascism, but to create a world of shared prosperity.
Roosevelt talked not only about Freedom from Fear but also Freedom from
Want. One of the reasons why the Bush administration is losing the battle
for the world's hearts and minds is precisely that it fights only the war on
terror, while turning a cold and steely eye away from the millions dying of
hunger and disease. When is the last time anybody heard Vice-President Dick
Cheney even feign a word of concern for the world's poor?

Last month Mr Bush made a speech to the General Assembly of the United
Nations. In calling for action against Iraq, he challenged the international
community to live up to its own words. "We want the United Nations to be
effective, and respectful, and successful. We want the resolutions of the
world's most important multilateral body to be enforced." He asked whether
"the United Nations will serve the purpose of its founding, or will be
irrelevant?" The idea that UN commitments should be followed by action is
indeed a radical one, especially for the United States, where wilful neglect
of its own commitments is the rule.

Just one week before Mr Bush's UN speech, at the Johannesburg World Summit
on Sustainable Development, the rich countries promised to put real
resources behind the "Millennium Development Goals" of cutting poverty,
disease and environmental degradation. They agreed (the United States among
them) to "urge the developed countries that have not done so to make
concrete efforts towards the target of 0.7% of GNP as ODA [official
development assistance] to developing countries." The United States falls
$60 billion a year short of that target--a seemingly unbridgeable gap, until
one realises that the annual military spending in America has risen by about
that amount since Mr Bush entered the White House. The United States spends
just 0.1% of GNP on foreign assistance. It is firmly in last place among the
22 donor countries in aid as a share of income, a position it will continue
to hold even after the small increases the administration announced earlier
this year. No conditions, no excuses

If we were to send teams of "UN development inspectors" into the United
States, the results would not be pretty. First, they would discover a nearly
total disconnect between global commitments and domestic politics. Mr Bush
has not discussed America's commitments at Johannesburg with the American
people (and perhaps his aides have not even discussed them with the

Second, they would find complete disarray with regard to the organisation,
budgeting, and staffing necessary to fulfil the commitments. White House and
State Department foreign-policy experts are overwhelmingly directed towards
military and diplomatic issues, not development issues. Senior development
specialists in the Treasury can be counted on one hand. America's government
is not even aware of the gap between its commitments and action, because
almost nobody in authority understands the actions that would be needed to
meet the commitments.

No serious work whatever is under way within the government to link annual
budgetary allocations with the international development goals the United
States has endorsed. For example, the Bush administration has failed to
produce even one credible document spelling out America's role in a
global-scale war against AIDS.

America's planned contribution to the global AIDS fund is around a sixth of
what is needed in 2003, according to the fund itself. The evidence shows
that $25 billion a year from the donors could avert around 8m deaths each
year. The expected $100 billion cost of war against Iraq would therefore be
enough to avert around 30m premature deaths from disease, if channelled into
a sustained and organised partnership with the poor countries.

There is a way out. It is to empower the United Nations to do what it can
truly do: organise a global response to the global challenges of disease
control, hunger, lack of schooling and environmental destruction, an effort
in which the United States would be a major participant and indeed
financier, in exactly the manner that it has repeatedly pledged.

The idea that the UN system could provide real leadership on the great
development challenges will strain credulity in some quarters. A steady
drumbeat of criticism about the UN agencies during the 1990s, led by
right-wing leaders in Congress, has left the impression of nearly moribund
institutions, busy securing patronage slots for friends and relatives, and
disconnected from the rapid advances in technology, finance and
globalisation. Indeed, when I began my own intensive work with the UN
agencies three years ago, as chairman of a commission for the World Health
Organisation, and then more recently as a special adviser to the
secretary-general for the Millennium Development Goals, I was unsure what to
expect within the specialised agencies of the United Nations. Tried and

The truth is almost the opposite of what the UN bashers say. Despite a
decade of criticism and budget cuts, the specialised UN agencies have far
more expertise and hands-on experience than any other organisations in the
world. Even the World Bank, with its knowledge base and ability to disburse
and monitor funds in some of the most difficult settings in the world, can
address problems of health or environment or other specialised concerns only
in partnership with UN agencies that have expertise in these specific areas.
No bilateral donor agency can substitute for the scale of UN expertise and
engagement, though these agencies can be important partners in a global

This under-appreciated capacity is why the UN system has vastly outperformed
expectations in Kosovo, East Timor and other tough assignments in recent
years. An agency like the World Health Organisation has a unique mix of
technical expertise, legitimacy in all corners of the world, and especially
an operational presence on the ground in dozens of the world's poorest and
neediest countries. Agencies such as the Food and Agriculture Organisation
in Rome became objects of merriment and ridicule among right-wing
congressmen in recent years--but of course the constituencies of those
senators and congressmen never had to battle the loss of fisheries in Tonle
Sap Lake in Cambodia, or drought in AIDS-ravaged southern Africa, as the FAO
does each day.

The United Nations, in conjunction with the World Bank, should be asked to
take the lead in establishing "Global Frameworks of Action" surrounding each
of the major development goals. These frameworks would outline, in broad
terms, yet with budgetary guidelines and timetables attached, the specific
ways in which rich- and poor-country governments, the private sector,
philanthropic foundations and other parts of civil society could get
organised to win the fight against poverty and disease. Realistic plans
would be based on four Ss: scale, science, specificity, selectivity.

First, the UN plans should address each issue at the appropriate scale. Just
as there is no point in having weapons inspectors visit only a small
fraction of possible weapons sites, there must be no faking it with
small-scale AIDS projects that might save one village while leaving whole
nations to die. But true scale will cost money, especially from the United

Second, the UN should mobilise the best science available, as it has done
with climate change in the IPCC or with health at the World Health
Organisation and UNAIDS. This means an open, inclusive and consultative
process in each area of concern, drawing upon national and international
scientific academies, public and private research centres, and academia.

Third, any plan of action must recognise the specificity of conditions on
the ground. There is no single strategy for fighting AIDS, or preserving
forests or combating malaria. Everything depends on physical geography,
culture, history and other very local factors. The best way by far to bridge
global science and local conditions is to invite national governments and
civil society in each country to prepare their own plans of action, with the
understanding that meritorious programmes will be funded at the
international level. That is the strategy of the Global Environment Facility
and the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. It should be
the strategy behind similar efforts for expanding primary education, or
providing water and sanitation to impoverished regions.

Fourth, any plan must be selective, addressing donor assistance only towards
regions that will use it well, and taking a hard-headed approach when
corrupt governments are likely to squander the help. On this, the United
States is right to demand that aid be linked to good governance and
reasonable economic policies. The fallacy in America's approach has been
that even well-behaved governments receive only a tiny fraction of the
financial help that they really need.

Our interconnectedness on the planet is the dominating truth of the 21st
century. One stark result is that the world's poor live, and especially die,
with the awareness that the United States is doing little to mobilise the
weapons of mass salvation that could offer them survival, dignity and
eventually the escape from poverty.

It is time for Mr Bush to take seriously his own statement at the UN that
"our commitment to human dignity is challenged by persistent poverty and
raging disease." If Mr Bush would only lead his country to that end, not
only would he mobilise billions of people in the fight against terrorism,
but he would also fulfil his own call for the world to "show that the
promise of the United Nations can be fulfilled in our time."

Jeffrey Sachs is the director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University
in New York. He has served as an adviser to many poor-country governments
and was formerly head of the Harvard Centre for International

Development. He is one of the world's foremost authorities on development.


Nathaniel Hurd
Consultant, United Nations Iraq policy, Mennonite Central Committee (MCC)
United Nations Office
90 7th Ave.
Apt. #6
Brooklyn, NY  11217
Tel. (M): 917-407-3389
Tel. (H): 718-857-7639
Fax: 718-504-4224

Any views or opinions presented above are solely those of Nathaniel Hurd and
do not necessarily represent those of the Mennonite Central Committee.  The
Mennonite Central Committee has no legal or other responsibility for the
contents of this message.

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