This I Believe

Anne - Lexington, Illinois
Entered on May 30, 2007

You want to hear something weird? The daily budget of the Pentagon –which, by the way, is $1.5 billion — is roughly equal to what it would cost to provide bed nets for all of the sleeping spaces in Africa’s malaria “hot spots” for a period of five years.

These figures aren’t mine. They come from Professor Jeffrey Sachs, best-selling author of The End of Poverty and Co-founder of Millennium Promise, and I’m paraphrasing from a speech he gave on February 12, 2007 at The University of Chicago.

The idea of casting the problems associated with extreme poverty as “weird” isn’t mine either. Unlike Professor Sachs, I have tagged such problems as inhuman, shameful, or hopeless, among a judgmental few. In fact, had Professor Sachs employed my tactic in describing the issue of extreme poverty, or the policies of our current administration on this issue, the crowd likely would have erupted in applause.

But Professor Sachs wasn’t just looking for a reaction. He’s looking for action. He recognizes that for most Americans, the problem of extreme poverty is simply inaccessible. As a result, sadly and predictably, we do nothing.

Perhaps by characterizing the problem of extreme poverty as just plain weird, Professor Sachs has made the issue a little more accessible for us. Although we won’t all agree on what is weird, we are all likely to find something weird about this issue. I might think it is weird that the daily budget of the Pentagon is actually $1.5 billion. You might find it weird that our government, and, to be fair, many others, has yet to take any significant steps toward implementation of the United Nations Millennium Development Goals — the internationally agreed to goals of reducing extreme poverty, disease and hunger by the year 2015. Whatever we might find weird, by focusing on it, maybe we can begin to chip away at this seemingly impenetrable issue.

So what happens if we start to get a handle on the problem of extreme poverty, and our inaction gives way to action? According to Professor Sachs, action leads to “imminently predictable” success. By adhering to discrete guidelines – including the delivery of clean water, education, healthcare and agricultural tools – Millennium Promise has delivered predictable, successful results in the short 16 month span since its formation.

Professor Sachs shared one such success story. It happened on Zanzibar, the collective name for two islands just off the coast of Tanzania in eastern Africa. About eight months ago, Millennium Promise provided funding for bed nets and malaria medication which local volunteers then dispensed door-to-door. As of December of 2006, the malaria rates on both islands were down over 90% compared to rates in December of 2005. By January of 2007, one island reported no cases of malaria; the other reported just two.

According to Professor Sachs, these results and countless others realized by Millennium Promise are not weird. Continuing to do nothing in the face of these results would be.