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Jeffrey Sachs ().
Jeffrey Sachs ().

By Alice Perry Linker

Observer Staff Writer

A world-renowned economist, decrying America's spending on military operations, asked members of an audience in three cities to urge American politicians to make a greater effort to help extremely poor nations.

If the United States focused its energies less on military might and more on helping the poorest of nations, millions of premature deaths could be prevented, said Jeffrey Sachs, a professor with the Earth Institute at Columbia University.

"There is vastly too much emphasis on military solutions and not enough on our capacity to address improving living standards and keeping people alive," he said during a video conference Wednesday.

Sachs, who advised Boris Yeltsen on economic issues during Russia's transition period, also has advised Latin American, Asian and African nations on economic matters.

He told audiences at three universities, including Eastern Oregon University, that the amount of money being spent on the war in Iraq could provide health programs for six years in extremely poor counties.

"Tens of millions of lives could be saved if we addressed the health crisis with equal energy," he said during the video conference that originated in New York.

Spending 10 cents of every $100 of income "would save eight million people each year," he said.

The interactive video conference was coordinated by the World Bank, and sponsored in Oregon by the World Affairs Council of Portland and the Blue Mountain Forum in La Grande. The conference was broadcast to the University of Washington and Portland State University, as well as to Eastern.

Sachs has been appointed by U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan as an adviser to the Millennium Development Goals. The goals focus on improving living conditions in the world's poorest nations.

During his speech, Sachs said that 1 billion people throughout the world live below the poverty threshold.

"The world has made a commitment to reduce that by half, and we're way off track," he said. "The U.S. is a signatory to that commitment, but the U.S. effort is utterly inadequate.

"People are falling off the edge (of extreme poverty) at stunning rates. Thousands die needlessly."

Medical help tops the list of requirements to improve the conditions in the poorest nations, where thousands die from HIV-AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis, he said, adding that when overall health improves, the economy of a nation will improve.

When Sachs has asked American leaders, including Secretary of State Colin Powell, to consider spending more to fight disease and build infrastructure in the poorest countries, he said he has been told, "We don't have the money."

"The amount spent on this war is phenomenally large — $75 billion in the first six months," Sachs said, predicting that the United States will spend between $100 and $200 billion over the next 18 months to three years.

No matter the war's outcome, "the shape of the world will change in coming months," he said.

American communities and individuals can actively support increased American commitment to improving the economies of the world's poorest countries, he said.

"You can tell the politicians, ‘This is what we want to do. We live 70 years, while in Africa, the lifespan is about 40 years.' "

In spite of America's history of giving money to outlaw governments that Sachs called "Thugocracies," the United States can direct aid to specific projects such as roads, health clinics, vaccines and the like, thus ensuring that the money is properly spent, Sachs said.

"Saving lives is not just a worthy cause, but would stabilize the unstable countries. Military action should take place when all else has failed."

The economist said the war in Iraq is justifiable only if weapons of mass destruction are found, "and the evidence is not in" that the threat exists.

"If there is not a grave and imminent threat, the war will be regarded as one of the greatest follies — one of the greatest disasters — of U.S. foreign policy.''


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