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Earth Institute's Jeffrey Sachs Sees Location
As Factor in Poverty Plaguing Some Nations
Any one thinking of buying a new house knows how important location is. Location has a direct impact on the appraisal of the house and on the final value of that much-desired piece of land. As a result, wealthy people live in pricey locations, while poor people share other lands.
It seems that the rules that govern the real state market can also be applied on a much larger and global scale. During a recent seminar sponsored by the Washington Science Policy Alliance at AAAS, Jeffrey D. Sachs, director of the Columbia University Earth Institute, noted that 92.6% of the 30 highest-income countries in the world are located in temperate zones whereas only 12% of the 42 Highly Indebted Poor Countries (HIPCs) are found in these same areas. Sachs believes that this is not a coincidence but rather one of the major reasons why the poor countries remain poor.
"The poor are not just like the rich but with less money," he says. "They live in different ecological zones and have different health conditions." The special challenges of living in environmentally harsh locations should be carefully considered by international agencies such as IMF and The World Bank, he adds.
In a lecture on 2 December, Sachs explained to an audience of 100 people who gathered in the AAAS auditorium what defined "The Economics of Science for Sustainable Development," the title of his talk, and explained why he believes that The World Bank and the International Monetary Fund should rethink their strategies if they expect to see some development in poor countries.
According to Sachs, there are three types of sustainability; the debt sustainability, the project or donor sustainability and finally, the sustainability of the environment and ecosystems. The latter, he believes, can only be achieved if we concentrate our efforts on the first two definitions of sustainability. By sustainability of the environment, Sachs means the practice of preserving the ecosystem while allowing the improvement of economic conditions.
Need to Apply Science, Technology
Sachs believes that there is an ecological divide on our planet that can only be overcome with "a greater systematic application of science and technology."
Success will come only when development initiatives adopt strategies that combine both local environmental issues and specific applications of science and technology.
"Most governments and international agencies tend to think that poor countries are poor basically because they are poorly governed," Sachs says. "I think this is a complete misunderstanding. The real challenge is deeply implicated with the physical environment and thus should be the topic attracting most of the attention."
That international agencies don't take environmental issues into account to development practices just shows that "we are wrong in the way we approach problems in these countries," he adds.
Take the example of malaria, a disease that is heavily concentrated in the poorest tropical countries and mostly in sub-Saharan Africa. Malaria kills as many as 2.5 million people per year. In the past, the spread of the disease in sub-tropical regions such as Spain, Italy, Greece and Southern United States was eventually brought under control. Sachs notes that "winter may be the greatest public-health intervention in the world." In the heart of Africa, the tropical climate offers just the right ecological conditions for the mosquito to proliferate. Science and technology could potentially offer some solutions, but as Sachs recognizes, "they operate according to the market as does everything else in our society."
The major world players in vaccine research and drug development do not believe that there is a sufficiently lucrative market for pharmaceuticals to combat the epidemic to make it worth investing in the needed R&D. That explains why malaria, a disease that accounts for 3% of the world disease burden, attracts very few R&D resources. Another example is the AIDS epidemic. While rich countries are controlling the epidemic with drug treatments and anti-retroviral therapy for HIV, two thirds of the 33 million people infected with HIV worldwide live in sub-Saharan Africa. And the number continues to rise.
It is necessary to understand the unique problems of the highly indebted poor countries order to be able to address them. The real progress in economic development in these countries will be possible when a better understanding of their ecology, biodiversity, soils, and health conditions is acquired and considered "in the practical day-to-day advice in development thinking," says Sachs. Additionally, a mobilization of the world's science and technology resources will be necessary to solve the high level of environmental degradation, the low level of agricultural productivity, the demographic isolation and the crisis in public health that plagues these nations. In his talk, Sachs seemed to call on the science and technology communities to reach the ecological divide.
5 December 2002