LectureHop: Progress and Challenges in the Millennium Villages

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Bwog Lecture Hop Editor Pierce Stanley attended this evening’s Jeffrey Sachs-sponsored Progress and Challenges in the Millennium Villages lecture.

Miller Theater served as a welcome refuge from the torrential downpour levied today on Morningside Heights. This afternoon, a slew of students packed into the theater to hear a report from Earth Institute Director/Professor to the Stars Jeffrey Sachs on the progress of the Millennium Villages project.  Sachs spoke about the brutal realities that many individuals in the villages face on a daily basis, the challenges in continuing and expanding aid for the villages in a time plagued by a troubled worldwide economy, as well as suggesting that the road ahead — specifically with respect to the monetary and human investments required for success — would be quite difficult to traverse. 

Nevertheless, Sachs painted a rather rosy picture of the Millennium Villages he has helped establish in rural parts of Kenya and Malawi.  He described serious efforts at bringing telephony to the Sahel region, yet suggested that infrastructure achievements such as this one are merely the start of a five-year holistic investment of which we are nearing the end of the third year.  Sachs proceeded to lay out quickly and fluently for listeners four key areas of import to the success of the project, which is sponsored by the UN and administered under the careful tutelage of Columbia’s Earth Institute. The four key areas included healthcare, education, infrastructure, and agriculture. 

Sachs explained that cost estimates for the Villages of $120 per capita are too low for any real change to take place, and suggested that higher energy prices, the depreciation of the dollar and the fact that donor aid has remained relatively constant will present profound consequences for all of four of these key areas over the coming years. 

Nevertheless, he stressed the profound gains that have occurred with regard to agriculture as new types of soils have been introduced by Columbia Professor Pedro Sanchez in the villages, as well as nitrogen deposits that have been replenished thanks to the the introduction of different types of fertilizers to the soils.  While water depletion remains a major problem in the villages and droughts continue to plague these intensely deserted regions with a lack of concerted irrigation protocols, he did report that progress is ahead of schedule in other areas. 

With regard to education, Sachs heralded the successes brought about the by the hiring of teachers and construction of new schools in the villages.  Moreover, he argued for the continued practice of midday feeding programs and security for female students to prolong steady jumps in school attendance. 

In addition, Sachs argued that simple healthcare provisions — including the introduction of ambulances to the villages, as well as the opening of emergency care clinics — has vastly improved the general health of the populations of the Millennium villages.  He urged for more support when it comes to the provision of mosquito nets to combat malaria and easier access to prescription drugs to treat diseases such as AIDS.  Overall, Sachs concluded that while donor aid is leveling, more international aid from countries such as China and the Middle East is necessary.

In a flash, Sachs was off the stage and on to the next event in his busy schedule, a lecture at the New York Public Library’s main branch downtown. He emphasized that time is running short for success in the Millennium Villages, but succeeded in alerting the audience to the profound sense of optimism pervading these times. He said he hoped that perhaps the United States (under a new President) and other countries will begin to take the challenges of the Millennium Development Goals more seriously in the days to come.  

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  1. Jon

    I was glad to hear such a fairly positive report from Prof. Sachs. To me, he is really the embodiment of academia-a professor who does not solely exist in the ivory tower, and who actually puts his ideas into action. His causes are of the utmost importance, and are a helpful framework for hopefully one ending poverty.

  2. what  

    That's funny, I can't think of anyone who is more ivory tower delusional than Jeffrey Sachs. The very basis of his program is that he knows what poor people need better than they do. Only an academic could be so overconfident in his knowledge.

    • Jon

      #2, I don't think you have Sachs right at all. Clearly, in many instances the poor do not understand their circumstances-oftentimes that is one of the big hindrances to them overcoming their circumstances (as well as a lack of resours and adverse political conditions). He has personally visited with some of these villages and has traveled around the world-how is that Ivory Tower? He himself said that some villages knew what they needed, but could not obtain it. He has helped get them some of these resources.

      • yeah  

        it is clear that you are not familiar with some of the arguments against sachs that question the main assumptions of his model. Read some William Easterly, or Sala-i-martin and then you will understand where commenter two is coming from. Whether or not you will think his point is valid will then still depend on your beliefs, but at least then you will understand the terms of the argument. No one is arguing that circumstances are not often a hindrance to the poor getting rich or anything like that. Like I said understand the terms of the debate before you advocate one position over the other.

        • w.easterly.  

          just because legitimate critiques of sachs exist doesn't mean that #2 demonstrated one. it's bull to legitimize #2 on the grounds that william easterly has made some actually scholarly arguments that also happen to target the same person. psha.

          • actually  

            #2 boiled down into three sentences one part of the legitimate arguments against sachs. Basically the argument being that the rich world doesn't always have the best idea of what the poor need, and makes mistakes accordingly when giving aid. I don't really understand what your problem is with what 2 said, unless it is the tone... but since this is bwog that would be silly.

  3. actually  

    one of the things he mentioned in his lecture is how cognizant the residents of the Millennium Villages were at the program's outset of the challenges they faced. They recognized then and now the unique challenges they faced in terms of their inability to save and invest in crucial infrastructure. The point of the project, then, is not to presume to know what they need, but to help them to accomplish the goals to which they have always aspired.

    Also, is it "delusional" to presume that they would be better off out of their current state of poverty than they are in it?

  4. Xavier Sala-i-Martin  

    Angelina Jolie gave a lecture and nobody invited me?

  5. Jeffrey Sachs  

    is an Ivory Tower whore who builds up his own fame by capitalizing on the poverty of others. He is an academia "celebrity" because people feel that idolizing him and his fight against poverty make them better people in the process. He not only is bad in his own right, but serves as a mechanism for others to ignore the problems he at least tries to correct by providing them with an intellectual excuse.

    He also sells poison milk to schoolchildren.

  6. ok...

    Xavier v. Sachs cagematch.

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