25,000 die of neglect everyday

 

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Category: Profiles Date: 24 Feb 02


“The world is unequal in material conditions as never before. It is sometimes glibly said that the poor have only themselves to blame, that poverty is the result of idleness, corruption and the like.

Our research teaches otherwise. The world’s poor suffer mightily from scourges of disease, environmental vulnerability and degradation, climactic stresses, and other complex and poorly understood burdens.”

Prof Jeffrey D Sachs, director, Centre for International Development at Harvard University.

 

The New York Times pronounced him “the most important economist in the world”.

Not because of his awards, honours and honorary degrees. Not because of his influence with world leaders. Not for his books, papers or considerable charisma.

Why then?

His is a lesson of how to be a human being. He is a courageous and passionate crusader for millions of the world’s poor. He wants to see headlines like ‘25,000 DIE OF NEGLECT’ everyday, (and they do), until rich countries who are nothing short of ‘murderous’ increase aid from US$27 billion to US$100 billion.

 

The US, he rages, is the worst offender, being the richest, but giving the least of all 22 donor countries. He is an economic wizard who helps fix developing countries in trouble (Bolivia, with his advice, reduced its inflation from the hilarious number of 40,000 per cent to ten per cent).

 

His is a flexible, agile and brilliant mind, seeing micro and macro simultaneously, moving easily between the plight of a mother and child dying of HIV/Aids, to the collapse of Argentina’s financial sector.

 

He is an academic who shuttles between his ivory tower and the streets of developing and troubled countries. His recognition of the small details in the lives of forgotten human being has breathed soul into economic theory. By some miracle, the Caribbean Academy of Sciences, UWI, and Republic Bank brought him to Trinidad and Tobago last week.

 

Jeffrey Sachs tells it as he would to a six-year-old. He takes a dry, economic term like ‘globalisation’, reaches for history, stretches across nations, places us in context. “Some say,” he began, “globalisation is a solution, a search for a better standard of living for everyone. Others call it a great evil. It is neither panacea or a cure, but a puzzle.”

 

The rest is a sketch of Sachs lecture here last week:

 

“What is globalisation? Simply this. The way countries and people are interlinked.

“September 11 was a vivid illustration of globalisation, of how a small, poor country like Afghanistan could crack the very foundations of our world.

“HIV/AIDS is a far more tragic effect of globalisation than September 11. It originated in West Africa in the 30s, was identified as a disease in 1981 and has spread to 65 million people worldwide. 25 million are dead as a result of it. Three million people die every year, 8-9,000 people die every day.

“It has left Africa isolated, drowning in the cycle of disease and poverty. One-sixth of the world, led by the US, is doing well with globalisation. Everyone else is being left behind.

“The premise that globalisation creates equal opportunity is false because some countries haven’t even had a chance to join the world economy.

“Geography, climate and history have already decided which countries have a head start. For example, countries in which slavery was practised, where there has been a wanton devastation of natural resources, are absent in the globalisation process.

“Rich countries that caused the devastation have no interest in the legacy they have left. The belief that the world is linked by technology is a farce.  The US has been growing at a steady rate since 1820, because its large markets have stimulated specialisation, the incentive for invention is higher. But countries geographically isolated from major trading centres are less able to specialise and exchange goods. Brain drain, disease, social instability, geographical isolation, have left a fifth of the crippled world out of the race.”

 

He shames us into understanding that no matter what our professions, we must be driven by our individual and collective humanity, our responsibility to one-fifth of the world, buckling under poverty and disease. (One and a half billion people live on less than a dollar a day).

 

What of Trinidad and Tobago?

We could be in trouble. Despite our oil and gas. Our per capita income (US$8,000) is roughly half that of Barbados (US$15,000) which invests far more in health and education.

 

Development will come not by hanging on to yo-yoing oil prices, but by investing in our people.  He thought it “dismal” that 30 per cent of our secondary students dropped out, that only 10 per cent make it to university, compared to US’s 85 per cent, Europe’s 50 per cent.

 

Despite the one billion barrel oil find, we may be about to “blow it” again as we did our first boom, and we won’t get a third chance. We need to urgently set up planning commissions on health, education, diversification.

 

Sachs warns if we “wipe ourselves off the face of this earth”, by leaving the important task of planning 20 years ahead to create jobs to political appointees, allowing AIDS to ravage us, ignoring illiteracy, ripping ourselves in half racially, no one will notice.

 

The real enemy is out there, the big globalisation fish waiting to gobble us up. We have to unite to fight it. I looked around. Was anyone listening?  Maybe one or two politicians. The rest might have been bickering away our future in Crowne Plaza.

 

A chilling thought.

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All Articles Copyright Ira Mathur