The Shifting War on Poverty In the Developing World

Before the Ebola virus caught the world’s attention, the fight was underway against malaria. Undertaken by a myriad of international organizations and national governments, this struggle consists of a larger engagement to achieve the United Nation’s Millennium Development Goals. The eight goals take poverty, hunger, equality, general health and environmental issues head on. One actor that has been at the forefront is the World Bank. Born of the Bretton Woods Agreement in the aftermath of the Second World War, one of the earliest tasks was to help rebuild the European continent. Incrementally, and especially under the leadership of Robert McNamara, the Bank shifted its focus to the developing world at large, with ending poverty as the stated goal.

International development is a tricky beast. The politics behind the donors, receivers, issues tackled and how to accomplish them are but a few of the potential conflicts. Other concerns include what Paul Collier calls the “traps”. These are conflict, natural resource, landlocked, and bad governance. Essentially these are the hurdles that must be overcome by the developing nation itself such that it can join the ranks of the developed world. The other end of the donor-receiver chain must also be scrutinized if poverty and development are to find their way in these nations.

One paradigm that has plagued the international community is the one size fits all policy towards the developing world, usually attributed to the International Monetary Fund. Complainants count the ranks of Southeast Asia and Latin America. They make the argument that the IMF applied an even prescription to whatever ailed them, disregarding the local conditions and local history. In this same vein of ineptitude and good intentions, we find the seemingly eternal international aid debate between Jeffery Sachs and William Easterly.

Fundamentally they both want to see the development of nations that face high infant mortality and deaths from easily prevented diseases, but pick a fight with one another over how this is conducted. Sachs appears to be an idealist, citing the highlights of any operation and brushing aside the more dismal aspects. This isn’t to say that he outright ignores the lesser points, simply that he thinks highly of the work being done. Easterly is vastly more critical of aid and of Sachs himself. He is decidedly against the sort of international development that Sachs ascribes to and especially of the sort that would have an outsider assemble a program without any serious input from those it would affect.

In sum, these two individuals capture what is the heart of the international development question. How does the international community effectively transform a developing country with serious health, governance, and other issues, into a thriving developed nation? The World Bank seems to believe that one method of ridding the world of chronic poverty is by alleviating basic, preventable health concerns.

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