UN Millennium Development Goals Taunted by Illusory Goalposts

He mentioned mosquito netting at least ten times; this seemed to encapsulate the stark simplicity and basic needs of impoverished peoples. “Why should these children even be getting Malaria?,” asked Dr. Jeffrey Sachs, Columbia University Professor, in charge of developing strategies to achieve the UN’s Millennium Development Goals, one of which is not to eradicate poverty, but merely to cut hunger in half by 2015.

He was speaking to those gathered in the Chamber for Economic and Social Development at the United Nations, to which non-Governmental Organization Representatives were also invited. We, the NGOs of all nations that lobby for various issues, constitute what is now called “civil society.” I always laugh at this new designation and wonder if that differentiates us from “uncivil society?”

There’s No Quick Fix For These Complex Problems

Dr. Sachs described the uselessness of even talking about access to world markets to promote the economies of the poorest nations when women, and he emphasized women, carry burdens of water and firewood on their heads for endless kilometers. Trucks! That’s it, you might think. They need trucks. But wait a minute…there are no roads. On and on, he described the near hopelessness of getting anything done quickly. What do you do about nitrogen-depleted, arid, rainfall-irrigated soil? How to grow crops to take into town to sell, when you can’t grow enough food to feed your own family?

Thinking and planning has to constantly back-track to bring the whole picture into focus. So, will some fertilizer company donate tons of nitrogen to the cause? And if they do, how far will it go? Even that would be just a drop in the bucket! There’s no quick fix. If we are to really help people begin to make it up to the starting gate in this race, there must be total, and I mean total, commitment! Where do we start? And, here’s an even thornier question: how do we pay for it?

Malaria takes a gigantic toll, as does AIDS and Tuberculosis. All of these are preventable diseases, and mostly treatable, as well, with prompt and adequate intervention, such as: availability of medicine, better nutrition, less-crowded living conditions, efforts to keep children in school, sex education, condoms, empowerment of Women, creating jobs as an alternative to prostitution, and as Dr. Sachs points out, just simply providing mosquito netting. This could even protect 3 or 4 children under a single fifty-cent net! Which manufacturer can afford to step up to the plate and donate many millions of mosquito nets? Or who will buy them and contribute them to the cause? How will they be distributed? Is this doable? Would this be effective? This is just the kind of humanitarian thing that I’d like to see UN Peaceworkers doing.

Children die of preventable childhood diseases. Immunization can be administered if children are lucky enough to live in or near a city, in a country that supports clinics, that has refrigeration for keeping the vaccine, etc., etc. So access to life-saving intervention is totally capricious. How to get the five-cents worth of simple oral hydration salt solution into a child with diarrhea that will keep her or him from dying? Basic sanitation is impossible without water, but even for drinking, just clean, uncontaminated water is a remote and tantalizing commodity.

Please Talk About the Connection Between Power and Poverty?

I’m sitting there taking a few notes and grieving about the inequity and precariousness of world poverty conditions, but the other half of my head keeps screaming: Fallujah! Fallujah! Today the US military is over there attacking Iraq, bombing suspected pockets of potential terrorists, bursting-in doors, terrifying the occupants, killing innocent people, families, children, calling them insurgents. How can we be sitting here in a civilized setting discussing how to make life better for half the people in the world, when the US is on a rampage of aggression, making life a literal hell for a large swath of the other half? Why isn’t Dr. Sachs making the connection between power and poverty? Military spending is counterproductive to the best interests of people of every country. I want to raise my hand and ask him to talk about the Lula tax. War and instruments of war should pay a penalty.

This is total, total, insanity! We are wasting lives! Literally, wasting, wasting, wasting lives! Ours and theirs! Those Iraqis who are humiliated by an occupying military power can be expected to want to defend their honor and their homeland. I know deep in my heart what I would do, and I’m a peace person from way back and an old lady besides, but I can tell you that if New York City were invaded and occupied, I’d not try to run or cower in the basement, I’d stand my ground to defend my territory. I don’t have a weapon, and I don’t believe in killing, but there are some things that I would die for. I’ve rehearsed such a scene in my mind. I wonder if ethically, I’d be a freedom fighter or a terrorist, but to hold off an advancing enemy, I’d get on my rooftop and drop on them the heaviest things that I could get my hands on, for as long as I could, until they took me out!

We Should Be Building Hospitals, Not Bombing Them!

I’m sitting there in the meeting with a headache, listening to horror stories about the unmet needs of people in developing countries, and fuming about the insanity and the waste of US taxpayer resources and waste of people power. I’m thinking about all of our kids who just wanted an education. We’re wasting their lives. Those who were doing their patriotic duty by joining the National Guard are having their careers and businesses ruined and wasted, when they’re required to stay in the service and on active duty, and for what??? We’re over there wasting lives and the good will and reputation that the US might have had in the eyes of the Iraqi people and in the eyes of the rest of the world. We might have gone over there and helped to build hospitals, not bomb them! We might have gone there to bring food. Our kids in uniform would love that role, and they’d have been seen as friends. But all of this is wasted!

Why doesn’t Dr Sachs talk about the inequitable consumption of the world’s resources? I’m listening intently. This would seem to be a natural segue to speak to us of the extra dangers to the Earth’s most vulnerable people: exploitation and pollution, threats to our environment, expansion of the desert, the scarcity of fresh water, the threatened extinction of species, death of the rain forest, death of marine mammals and fish, ruining of the oceans, greenhouse gases, hole in the ozone, climate change, inundation of island states, soil erosion, flooding, even mud slides that take out whole communities. My head hurts. My heart hurts. Danger! Ruin! Waste!

My family will attest to the fact that I’m a real fanatic about waste. I can’t stand waste! I recycle! I take green garbage to the country for a decent burial! I wash and reuse ziplock plastic bags, for god’s sake! I can’t stand the idea of some people having nothing and others having everything and then, adding insult to injury, wantonly wasting it! Even worse, using up all of Earth’s common resources that should be shared, leaving nothing but debt and ruin for our children. This Earth is our home and I feel just as defensive about it being occupied by the enemy, as I feel about defending New York City! I cannot stand the idea of money being wasted on armaments and killing machines! I cannot stand the thought of wasting precious lives! I’m sitting there in the EcoSoc Chamber at the UN with hundreds of concerned people around me listening to the stories of the world’s disadvantaged and my head is pounding with fury about poverty and hunger and the waste of war. Why is Dr. Sachs not making the connection?

The Millennium Development Goals and the Lula Tax on Armaments

Then I heard him say it! He was describing the imbalance in our priorities. He was saying that the Millennium Development Goals wouldn’t fly…it was like an airplane with one heavy wing and one light wing or something like that, and that US military spending was 80 times as much as that which was spent for foreign aid. I kept saying almost aloud, talk about the Lula Tax. Talk about the Lula Tax. He didn’t. There was a question and answer period, during which many, to my mind, almost irrelevant questions were brought up. The phrase ignoring-the-elephant-in-the-room…kept hammering at me. Everyone with whom we shared that elaborate UN chamber knew that a war was raging in Fallujah, and come to think of it, dozens of other places in the world as well, and no one, not one person, made the connection between the lives and resources wasted by military aggression and the cruel hunger and poverty that wages its own deadly war on the people of this Earth.

Although I was waving my hand frantically, I didn’t get called on. I just couldn’t keep the tears from brimming over with the emotion and frustration. At the close of the presentation I approached Dr. Jeffrey Sachs to ask him about the Lula Tax, suggested by President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, of Brazil, requiring that all manufacture, sales, transfers and purchases of armaments pay a tax that would collect into the fund to eradicate hunger and poverty. He answered in a somewhat subdued tone, looked directly into my eyes, and simply said that the Lula Tax is not a very popular idea around here. We parted with a firm handshake and wished each other good luck! We need it. We have work to do.

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For additional information about the UN Millennium Development Goals, please see the following Web page: