Investing in People
Gro Harlem Brundtland, former Norwegian prime minister,
led the UN Commission on Environment and Development, which in 1987 introduced
the term "sustainable development." She is currently director-general
of the World Health Organization.
Geneva-More than anything, sustainable development
is about people-about providing food, shelter and health to everybody
on the planet in such a way that future generations can do the same.
This was the clear conclusion of the commission of leading world experts
I led 15 years ago, the World Commission on Environment and Development,
which laid out the first global blueprint for sustainable development.
No matter how many environmental agreements the rich countries of the
world design, a prosperous and safe future cannot be secured as long as
3 billion people live in poverty.
We cannot lose any more time. Take HIV/AIDS. Africa's AIDS epidemic is
threatening its population's ability to teach, heal, defend and even feed
itself as millions of teachers, health professionals, soldiers and farmers
are dying or dead, leaving millions of orphans and old people to fend
for themselves. If we wait another decade before we drastically scale
up our actions, HIV/AIDS will have engulfed China, India, large parts
of the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe-dwarfing the scale of the
current epidemic in Africa.
Alarmingly, effective action may be harder now than 10 years ago. The
international context has changed since the Rio Summit. The last decade
has taught us that the distribution of the benefits of globalization is
not equitable. We are now dealing with a world where there is a strong
sense of winners and losers, and losing may mean a life in abject poverty
or even death from diseases you can't afford to treat.
Recent events demonstrate that these inequities create heightened threats-local
crises evolve into development crises and then spread to threaten global
security itself. So far, crises have been over oil supplies-it could soon
be over access to water. The experience of the past decade does not give
confidence that existing international processes to prevent and solve
international crises are yet up to the task of dealing with them.
But the last decade has also given us a more sophisticated understanding
of the nature and dynamics of poverty. Poverty, we've come to understand,
is not just a function of income, but a function of multiple forms of
deprivation. We now focus more on the factors that drive people into poverty
and recognize, for example, the power of better health as an effective
poverty-reduction strategy. Diseases, such as malaria, tuberculosis and,
of course, AIDS, perpetuate poverty, for whole countries as well as for
individuals. Conversely, leading economists argue forcefully that investments
in basic health care in the poorest countries will boost economic growth.
And now comes the effort to modernize development assistance. Accountability,
innovation, partnerships, untied aid, moving from specific projects toward
integrated support and focus on locally and nationally developed poverty-reduction
strategies are but a few new techniques. Moreover, current assistance
mechanisms are now being complemented by innovative funding devices such
as the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB and Malaria. But underlying all of
these modern instruments is the need for financial follow through.
Two years ago, the world's nations united around the Millennium Development
Declaration: measurable targets for reducing poverty and improving the
human condition within a specific time frame. This declaration brings
the benefits of a limited list of goals, careful definition of indicators,
rigorous analysis of costs, ongoing advocacy and the legitimacy provided
by strong political buy-in.
But the real test of our resolve will not come from the words we will
agree on in Johannesburg, but from the resources we are willing to put
into this. The past decade has taught us that global economic growth alone
does not solve the problems of poverty.
Growth, development aid, democratic change and a fairer deal for our neighbors
living in developing countries as they strive for access to global markets
are what will bring the 3 billion poor up to the level where they can
participate in a global effort to save our natural resources. Investments
in new technology, energy conservation, pollution control and a restructuring
away from the enormous waste of fossil fuels will determine whether we
will be able to reverse the deterioration of our environment. But more
than anything, it is investments in people that will make the difference.
Our task is not impossible. There are examples of effective global action.
The near eradication of polio, which until recently had paralyzed millions
of children in the north as well as the south, and the rapid reduction
of emissions of ozone-depleting gases show that the world can achieve
great things when we focus on a problem.
As a global society, we have the resources we need to succeed.
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