0.7 Percent Marks the Spot

Aug 162006
Authors: Luci StorelliCastro

Growing evidence shows a strong correlation between the prevalence of terrorist activities and conditions of extreme poverty. In light of this, many Americans are coming to terms with the notion that eradicating poverty is not only a noble cause but also a fundamental strategy in fighting terrorism.

In the words of former Secretary of State Colin Powell, “The war against terror is bound up in the war against poverty.”

Still others, myself included, are not only convinced that ending conditions of extreme poverty is in our nation’s best interest but also that it is our responsibility as the world’s remaining superpower to lead in this effort. There are three main reasons underpinning this logic.

First, the United States is the richest country in the world.

Compared to other countries, our economic superiority facilitates our ability to commit the necessary financial resources for investing in foreign aid without thereby compromising the well-being of the citizenry.

In addition, past and present U.S. foreign policy blunders – such as reinstating the Shah in Iran and, more currently, invading Iraq – have increased global instability and contributed to the scaling up of poverty in different regions of the world.

Lastly, the United States, at its best, can move mountains.

To offer a fitting example, after World War II, the U.S.-endorsed Marshall Plan lifted Western Europe from the ruins and devastation of the war. This simultaneously sowed the seeds of what was later to become the European Union and suppressed the ascendance to power of another totalitarian dictator in the vein of Adolf Hitler.

Unfortunately, the willingness and commitment to fighting poverty that the United States exerted during the heyday of the Marshall Plan has all but evaporated in recent years.

As economist Jeffrey Sachs points out, U.S. aid has fallen from more than 2 percent of gross national product during the advent of the Marshall Plan to less than 0.2 percent of GNP today.

Sachs, whose masterful book, “The End of Poverty,” has revolutionized the economic development community and challenged traditional approaches to fighting poverty, has proposed a plan that would rid the world of extreme poverty by the year 2025.

As Sachs argues, official development assistance together with targeted investments in health, education, sanitation, infrastructure, public institutions, agricultural inputs and technological development is needed to jump-start economies above subsistence level in the developing world.

Sachs calculates that if all 22 donor countries of the Development Assistance Committee pitched 0.6 percent of their GNP, or the combined total of $124 billion, the 1.1 billion people living under conditions of extreme poverty could be raised to the basic-needs level. The 0.6 percent figure falls well within the 0.7 percent target that donor countries had famously promised to contribute in ODA support.

Most countries, however, have fallen short of their promise. Take the richest country in the world – we spend close to .15 percent of GNP.

Writing in 2005, Sachs warns, “The $450 billion that the United States will spend this year on the military will never buy peace if it continues to spend around 1/30 of that, just $15 billion, to address the plight of the world’s poorest of the poor, whose societies are destabilized by extreme poverty and thereby become havens of unrest, violence, and even global terrorism.”

On Sept. 11, 2001, 3,000 fell victim to terrorism. Every day in Africa, 10,000 people die of diseases – most of which are preventable. Whether to avoid another 9-11 or salvage Africa from being caught in a whirling cycle of death and misery, we need to end extreme poverty in our time.

Eradicating extreme poverty is a feasible, realistic and necessary benchmark that must be met for reasons of security and cosmopolitan principles.

Let’s not settle for empty promises and pessimistic reproaches. The fate of the world is much too important.

Luci Storelli-Castro is a junior double majoring in political science and philosophy. Her column will appear every Monday in the Collegian. Replies and feedback can be sent to letters@collegian.com.

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