Bringing science and development together through news and analysis

  • Ending poverty 'requires US$70 billion in research aid'


The world's rich nations need to provide US$7 billion a year for the next decade to support research and development (R&D) relevant to the needs of developing countries, if they are serious about meeting a pledge to end extreme poverty by 2015.

This is among the recommendations contained in the draft of a summary report of the UN Millennium Project, an initiative carried out by an influential group of scientists, economists and public policy specialists convened by UN secretary general Kofi Annan.

The purpose of the project, which is directed by Jeffrey Sachs, head of the Earth Institute at Columbia University, New York, is to advise international donors and poor countries on achieving what are called the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

These goals include 18 quantified targets for reducing extreme poverty in developing countries by 2015 that were agreed at the UN Millennium Summit held in New York in 2000.

The project seeks to address a situation in which more than one billion people live in extreme poverty. Of these, 90 per cent come from three regions: East Asia, South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, which the report describes as "the epicentre of the world's development crisis".

The draft summary, which was posted on the Internet on Friday (24 September) for public comment, has been compiled by Sachs drawing on the analysis and recommendations of ten separate task forces that have been looking at the MDGs in detail and the steps needed to achieve them.

Overall, says the draft — comments on which are being sought by 1 November — the millennium targets will not be met unless donors urgently treble their annual aid budgets to US$180 billion. Of this, it says, US$100 billion needs to be spent annually as direct aid on infrastructure and training in the fields of education, nutrition, health and public sector management in poor countries.

The thinking behind this suggestion is that economic growth is driven primarily by private capital, but that private capital tends to avoid countries with creaking infrastructure, shaky public institutions, or a shortage of well-trained personnel.

Within the overall total, the report suggests spending US$4 billion annually on R&D in public health, and US$1 billion each on agricultural research, energy and long-term climate change.

In addition, it suggests that US$5 billion should be provided for UN organisations that offer technical assistance to developing countries.

"We are not asking for any new commitments," says Sachs. "We are simply asking for existing pledges to be met," a reference to an earlier pledge by rich countries to spend at least 0.7 per cent of their Gross National Product (GNP) on aid that was confirmed at the international conference on financing for development, held in March 2002 in Monterrey, Mexico.

The report says few countries are on track to meet the millennium targets and only five donors — Denmark, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Norway and Sweden — have kept their promise to meet the 0.7 per cent target. Sachs says that the report is intended in part to remind donors of their earlier commitments.

Another key aim, he adds, is to convince conservative donor governments — particularly the Bush administration in the United States — of the value of international development assistance.

Sachs says he wants to destroy the myth that "people are poor because there is something wrong with them", or something wrong with their governments. He adds: "The paradox of poverty is that poor people are the ones who most need good institutions, yet cannot afford to pay for them".

The Millennium Project's ten individual task forces involved more than 250 experts, and each task force was chaired by individuals drawn from institutions in developing countries as well as the United States.

The summary report lists the main findings from each task force, and also weaves them into eight broad recommendations on achieving the millennium targets. These include a call for improvements to soils, and better access for small farmers to roads, water and electricity.

Another recommendation is for people who live in slums to be given legal rights to the land they live on. This would allow them to use the land as security for taking out loans to build better quality housing, or start a business — as is common practice in developed countries.

The draft summary also recommends that developing-country governments need institutions — including science academies — that can provide them with independent science advice (one of the recommendations of the science and technology task force) it calls for science education in universities to be made more relevant to development.

A substantial section of the summary report also calls for closer ties between business and science. These, it suggests, should include better university-industry links, more technology parks, export processing zones, and networks of 'business-angels' and other investors who are willing to invest in riskier, technology-based companies.

The report has already generated some critical reaction. One developing-country member of the task force on hunger, for example, said she was disappointed that its recommendations made no mention of the potential for biotechnology in achieving food security.

Others argue that its treatment of science and technology does not distinguish sufficiently between the needs of the poorest and more advanced developing countries, and lacks an adequate analysis of the impact of investments in science and technology on alleviating poverty.

Steve Bass, head of the environment department at the UK Department for International Development (which helps to fund SciDev.Net), says the report's section on science is "a good listing of what might be needed". But he adds that policymakers tend to make funding decisions based on actual examples of successes and failures.

Sachs says he welcomes critical comments, and will take these into account before drawing up the final version of the summary report. But he also says that he expects to get a rough ride from donors, who are unlikely to welcome the call for a substantial increase in aid funding.

"We know that donors don't want to give any more money," says Sachs. "They would like us to say: 'so, how do we get the private sector engaged'. But the reality is that these goals will not be reached if we continue with business as usual. The hardest thing for policymakers is to accept that there is no magic bullet to global poverty."

The draft summary can be downloaded from The deadline for comments is 1 November. The final report will be submitted to Kofi Annan in December and is expected to form the basis of a draft resolution for the UN General Assembly, as well as a major UN Summit to review progress on the Millennium Development Goals, planned for September 2005.

We encourage you to republish this article online and in print, it’s free under our creative commons attribution license, but please follow some simple guidelines:
  1. You have to credit our authors.
  2. You have to credit SciDev.Net — where possible include our logo with a link back to the original article.
  3. You can simply run the first few lines of the article and then add: “Read the full article on SciDev.Net” containing a link back to the original article.
  4. If you want to also take images published in this story you will need to confirm with the original source if you're licensed to use them.
  5. The easiest way to get the article on your site is to embed the code below.
For more information view our media page and republishing guidelines.