1 July 2002


Press Briefing



“We need a real partnership between the rich and poor countries, and a real operational strategy” to address the needs of developing nations, the Secretary-General’s Special Adviser on the Millennium Development Goals, Jeffrey Sachs, told correspondents at a Headquarters press briefing this afternoon.  He stressed the close connection between those goals and the subject of the high-level segment of the Economic and Social Council, which opened today.  

[During the Council session, which continues through 26 July, ministers and high-level officials from all over the world will consider the role of human resources development, particularly in the areas of health and education, as an essential factor in the development process.  In preparation for the World Summit on Sustainable Development, which is set to open in Johannesburg next month, the participants are also expected to address follow-up to the recent Monterrey Conference on Financing for Development.]

The Millennium Goals, which were set by the international community during the United Nations Millennium Summit in 2000, represented the global political commitment to dramatically reduce hunger and poverty and fight pandemic diseases, including HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria, said Mr. Sachs.  It was impossible to achieve economic growth with populations succumbing to epidemics and with children not finishing school, for they were not developing skills required in today’s global marketplace.  Thus, human development goals in health and education were vital in achieving the goals of economic growth. 

Today, he said, he had taken part in the first meeting of the Chairs of various task forces of the Millennium Project.  That was a project under the auspices of the Secretary-General and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Administrator, designed to make an analytical assessment of how the world could actually achieve those goals.  He had also been meeting with leading scholars and practitioners in those areas to initiate the Project, which over the next few years would “try to make a road map, as specific and detailed as possible, to get the job done.” 

The reason today’s meeting was so important and the Millennium Project was needed was that the problems facing developing countries were not taking care of themselves.  The last 10 years had been a dire period from the point of view of the world’s poorest countries.  With spreading pandemics of life-threatening diseases and deteriorating living standards, they were falling further and further behind.  At least 100 million children were not attending school, even at a primary level.  “We are just losing lives now, at a shocking rate”, he said.  The question today in the Economic and Social Council was what to do about it.  The answer was that it could not be business as usual, because business as usual could not pull the poorest countries out of the terrible downward spiral they were in.

Strategies to deal with the problem did exist, he stressed.  For example, between 20,000 and 25,000 lives around the world could be saved every day by applying existing, standard health interventions for impoverished people who currently did not have access to them.  That would be affordable, with assistance from rich countries.  Such strategies needed to be assessed in critical areas of

human resource development areas, such as health, water and sanitation, and education.

Asked about how specific the road map would be, Mr. Sachs said that the Millennium Project was mandated by the Secretary-General to try to assess a way forward that could actually work.  The road map would talk about areas of neglect, where the problems stemmed either from local or international governance, or where the need for financial assistance was essential. 

He added that it would be an international effort involving leading international scholars who liked to "tell it like it is", as well as participants from civil society, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), the business sector and the United Nations agencies.  "But we're going to tell it very straight", he said.

The project would have at least 12 outputs, he replied to a further question.  There would be 10 separate studies on parts of the Millennium Development Goals, for example on lack of access to water, on the disease pandemics of HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis, and on the question of hunger.  There would also be an overall synthesis volume delivered to the Secretary-General, while the Human Development Report for 2003 would focus on the Millennium Development Goals. 

As for the time-frame, he said, "we're off and running".  Those goals were to be met by 2015 -- and he was intent on standing there and cutting the ribbon.  That was a serious world commitment, and he did not have years and years to study.  Fortunately, there were existing studies from the United Nations and other organizations, so he would not have to reinvent the wheel. 

He said he would evolve practical suggestions, best practices, and illustrations of what was working and what was not, as soon as possible.  The project would run for three years with plenty of outputs in the months ahead.  Practical papers would continually be produced, not to sit on the shelf, but to try to move the practice forward. 

Asked about the effect of war on HIV/AIDS, he said it was most surely a risk factor or a co-factor in the spread of disease.  When war had stopped in Uganda at the end of the 1980s, for example, that was the first time a national policy could be put in place that led to a dramatic drop of HIV prevalence.  Soldiers and mercenaries in the midst of conflict and surrounded by displaced populations were often transmitters of the disease.  So that would have to be looked at.  In the general area of poverty alleviation, conflict was a major factor and an objective of the task force that he himself would head.

All Member States had signed on to the Millennium Development Goals with their respective obligations, he replied to a further question.  The rich countries were committed to being real partners of the poor, including providing financial assistance and helping to create open markets that made it possible for poor countries to grow.  Poor countries were committed to doing what was necessary on the ground to make those goals achievable -- because if domestic governance did not work, there was no chance for success, no matter how high the level of international cooperation.  His main role was diagnostic.  He was also involved in implementation, for example working with governments to help them "scale up" their health interventions. 

Responding to a question about the different approaches to rich and poor countries, he said he was trying to assess the extent to which barriers faced by the poorest countries were due to insufficient donor assistance or lack of access to rich-country markets.  The poor countries were being asked about how much domestic policies could be improved, or the degree to which corruption or discrimination against various ethnic groups were blocking success.  

He said he was trying to disentangle the story.  It was not a simple story, as different regions were suffering for different reasons, and different poor countries faced different barriers.  Sometimes it was terrible leadership; other times it was extreme geographical isolation, or very difficult physical or ecological conditions.  So he was trying to "pull apart" the various factors causing some countries to fall very far behind in meeting the Millennium Goals.

A correspondent asked whether it was predominantly the rich countries that needed to pull back their trade barriers and provide aid, or the poor countries that needed to "rejigger" their State-run economies.  Mr. Sachs said "we are not on a good path right now for a significant part of the world -- there are some real pockets of extreme distress".  He highlighted sub-Saharan Africa, parts of Asia, particularly Central Asia, and parts of Latin America.  The news had not been good for many years in those regions. 

"We are so far behind where we could be in alleviating international suffering", he said.  Action would have to be taken on a number of fronts simultaneously -– better governance internally, fairer trade, and more financial assistance.

Turning to the Johannesburg Summit on Sustainable Development, he said he was worried because there was not yet a "clear win".  For example, the level of international cooperation on some key issues was still unclear.  The Conference was important, as it was really the first major meeting of its kind in 10 years on sustainable development, and "we're not doing well on sustainable development".  Not only were the development prospects not looking good for some of the poorest places of the world, but the sustainability of the world's life-support systems had been neglected in the last 10 years. 

If the Summit produced nothing because rich, powerful countries did not commit to do their part, that could be a terrible blow for the world.  Hopefully, he said, it would be possible in the coming weeks to make some substantial commitments with the real weight of political leaders behind them.  The Secretary-General had identified five priority areas -- water, energy, health, agriculture and biodiversity.  Those were five critical areas and he was looking for real initiatives by rich countries. 

Asked to describe what he meant by "rich" and "poor" countries, he said the rich nations were the high-income countries, as classified by the World Bank, or the 22 donor country-members of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).  Those were the United States and Canada, Western Europe and Japan, with an average of $25,000 per capita right now.

When those countries closed their markets, that was the biggest punishment of all for the poorest countries hoping to stay alive and make it on their own.  By poor countries, he went on, he had meant the low-income countries, of roughly $750 per capita or below, depending on the classification being used.

He added that he was most concerned about the poorest of the poor –- the so-called least developed countries -- which tended to have average incomes of $1 a day or less.  The poverty in those countries was so extreme that millions of people were dying each year.  While the rich countries had escaped from the crises of absolute poverty and enjoyed a life expectancy of around 80 years, in the least

developed countries people were dying decades younger, with children still dying in huge numbers from preventable disease. 

Studies showed that it was possible for the whole world to enjoy improved living conditions, he said, and that the rich countries, if they made a modest effort, could make a huge difference in helping the poor escape from the trap of poverty.  But so far that effort had not been commensurate with the need.

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For information media. Not an official record.