Thursday, May 14, 2009

Sachs: Ending poverty not possible w/o attn to water and climate

Last night, I saw Jeffrey Sachs speak in a panel discussion in Chicago about water and sustainability. He mainly spoke about water scarcity. I got to ask him a question during the forum and here's how it went. It's a sobering answer for anti-pov folks to ponder. I apologize about the breaks in the transcript..my recording technology is rather inferior :(

ccyl: It's a common assertion among anti-poverty advocates that "We now have the resources and the technology to eliminate poverty. All we need is the political will" Given what we've been hearing tonight...especially the part about having no ready technical solutions for water...is that true for this problem? And if it isn't true for water issues, can that statement true about poverty anymore since you can't thrive or survive without water?

Sachs: I think there’s a tremendous amount of truth in that statement so I want to start by saying that it’s more true than not. We have more than a billion people on the planet who every single day are struggling for survival. That, in my view is wholly --- In the 21st century with what we know, we should not have 9 million children dying every year before their 5th birthday. And we should not be in a situation where people are struggling by the hundreds of millions, for every (yield?) and their very survival. That’s how life is for a lot of people. I believe that could be ended. Even in the dry-land areas where you do face tremendous drought in many of the places we’re working you get 4 or 5 good years and then you get a drought year. Even with that, which is very painful, one can plan for that, one can adapt to it to an extent…but I’m not recommending it as a stopping point….but it’s vastly better than the situation we have right now because the situation we have right now is that even in those four average rainfall years the people are not able because they lack the cultivation tools to generate the surplus which could carry them through a bad year. And so what I’ve been recommending for many, many years is that we make targeted, science-based, sensible investments… because the food production on average could double by virtue of it tripling in the good years. Maybe not doing so much for the bad years, but at least creating an environment that is on average much higher. Then, in a while the bad years can be fought through without utter desperation.

We haven’t talked a lot about solutions here and maybe we should. Because even if ---- water is the hardest of all the issues. There are a lot of things that can and should be done from water harvesting, landscape management, --- changes , drought resistance, crop--, low --- irrigation at least for part of the farming --- for these circumstances. So I say at the starting point, don’t lose hope ... because tremendous things can be done even up to the dry-land areas … but then let me add this sobering point as well because I think it’s important. For the true dry-land areas where it’s not 7 or 800 millimeters of rainfall, but it’s 200 or 300 millimeters, maybe too low for crops. … for those places in the world, this is a very, very hard problem… where in certain areas where we’re working we can do certain things but….that may be 1/5 of the extreme poverty, requiring even greater investment for the solution…but that 1/5 is a part of the world we need to take note of. Why? Because that’s where Darfur is. That’s where Somalia is. That’s where Afghanistan is. It’s not --- We can’t come to understand this in our country yet. That we’re facing water crises, we’re not facing Islam. We’re facing hungry places that are destabilized because they don’t have livelihoods and because the children are hungry and people are dying. In Somalia, we have the piracy and why? That place is so water stretched and therefore so economically and socially stretched that they haven’t been able to, they haven’t even been able to maintain a government in the past generation. It’s this lawless, warlord --- they’ve descended into a kind of anarchy. Why? Not just because it’s arbitrarily so. Because that is one of the driest places on the whole planet. …We just gave for the first time in a long time 250 million of aid for Somalia. But you know what it was for? For a Coast
Guard. Honest to God. It was not for a water pump. Not for water (wells?) Our problem is we view these places as means, not as ends. We don’t take at all seriously that there are people there. We only ask, “What’s it mean for us?” That’s a huge mistake for our country. We have to ask, “What’s going on there?” It’s the same thing we have to ask in Pakistan and Afghanistan. And I fear that the war is spreading right now. Because we haven’t yet come to the realization that unfortunately the military is not going to solve these problems. And the final point I would make on this: if we let climate change just run loose, these places will become uninhabitable. And so this vision of finding a way for them to escape from poverty, which I deeply believe in and spend my nights and days and days and nights working on…we will not be able to keep up with a runaway change in global climate. Similarly, we can’t keep up with a runaway population, so we have to get serious about population policy, contraception, family planning, climate change, and a lot of other favorite issues of Americans.

1 comment:

Carlos Navarro said...

Great post CCYL! Sachs is right in the sense that we can't continue with business as usual. We need to take the seventh (and eighth) Millennium Development Goals more seriously to find solutions for water conservation. This means targeting some of the funds for development assistance into water systems, desalination, etc... But conservation needs to be a centerpiece of all our policies.