Addressing Hunger and Poverty More than a billion people live in extreme poverty, plagued by diseases such as AIDS and malaria, and without enough fresh water to drink or food to eat. Jeffrey Sachs of the Earth Institute at Columbia University and Lester Brown, founder of the Earth Policy Institute, tell Ira Flatow about meeting the needs of a growing population.Can science and technology play a role?
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Addressing Hunger and Poverty

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Addressing Hunger and Poverty

Addressing Hunger and Poverty

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Here in America, very few of us live in what you would call extreme poverty. Most of us don't need to worry about whether we'll have enough food tonight to eat or whether there'll be drinking water when we get home, and thanks to our public health system, our infrastructure and sometimes even plain old geography, we don't live in fear of diseases that plague many of the world's people. I'm talking about malaria, cholera, tuberculosis--diseases like those.

But outside of our borders, over a billion of the world's people do live in extreme poverty, and they subsist on less than one dollar a day. They live in places far from our homes and our consciousness--in East Asia, Subsaharan Africa, South Asia. But can science and technology help lift some of these people from poverty? We've had a green revolution before. You know, we've had miracle rice crops in Asia decades ago. What happened to that revolution? How can the needs of all the Earth's peoples be met against a backdrop and a background of rising temperatures, falling water tables, an ever-increasing appetite for fossil fuels?

Now these are big problems, some might say genuine national security problems, and the solutions are not going to be easy. Joining me now are two guests who have thought about the problems and can offer some solutions. Jeffrey Sachs is the director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University, where he is also the professor of Sustainable Development and Health Policy and Management. He serves as special adviser to UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan. His new book is "The End of Poverty: Economic Possibilities for Our Time." And he joins us here in our New York studio. Welcome back to SCIENCE FRIDAY.

Professor JEFFREY SACHS (Earth Institute, Columbia University; Author, "The End of Poverty: Economic Possibilities for Our Time"): Oh, thanks so much. A pleasure to be here.

FLATOW: You're welcome. Lester Brown is the president and founder of the Earth Policy Institute, author of "Outgrowing the Earth: The Food Security Challenge in an Age of Falling Water Tables and Rising Temperatures." He joins us from our NPR studios in Washington. Welcome back to SCIENCE FRIDAY.

Mr. LESTER BROWN (Earth Policy Institute; Author, "Outgrowing the Earth: The Food Security Challenge in an Age of Falling Water Tables and Rising Temperatures"): Good to be here again, Ira.

FLATOW: You're welcome. Let's talk about--Jeffrey, you write about what it means to be poor, and a lot of us have misconceptions about what it means to be poor. What is real abject poverty about and how does it start? You know, we think, well, these people--if they just pulled themselves up by their bootstraps, they'd be great.

Prof. SACHS: Well, there are different definitions and different gradations of poverty. We have a lot of poor in America that don't really have a part in the mainstream American life, and they suffer a lot of indignity and a lot of risk from that. The kind of people that I'm writing about in "The End of Poverty" are people that are struggling, however, for survival every day, and what's shocking is that one out of every six people on the planet is in that situation. In other words, one out of every six people is vulnerable to a disease from unsafe drinking water or pneumonia of a young child from the pollution in the hut in a village that's using wood without a chimney inside, or malaria, which will claim about three million lives per year or chronic undernourishment from farm families that simply can't even grow enough to feed themselves, much less to bring food to market and earn an income.

So those are the people living in the most extraordinary poverty. And the point that I'm making is with the science and technology that we have, there is no reason for that kind of poverty. There is no reason for 20,000 people today to die because they're too poor to stay alive.

FLATOW: I've got a minute till the break, but you write in a recent Esquire magazine that we need a foreign policy that addresses our fragile planet's shared risks, climate change, energy crisis, economic vulnerability, diseases, nuclear proliferation. We seem to--that seems to be off the radar screen...

Prof. SACHS: We don't understand this is a crowded planet with such dangers, and somehow this administration, in particular, thinks that the military is the solution to everything, and the military is proving not to be the solution to very much, indeed, except raising the stakes and raising the danger on the planet.

FLATOW: All right. We're going to take a short break, and when we come back, we'll bring Lester Brown in our conversation with Jeffrey Sachs. He's author of the new book "The End of Poverty: Economic Politics for Our Time." And Lester Brown's book, "Outgrowing the Earth: The Food Security Challenge in an Age of Falling Water Tables and Rising Temperatures." So stay with us. We'll be right back after this break.

(Soundbite of music)

FLATOW: You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION/SCIENCE FRIDAY. I'm Ira Flatow. We're talking this hour about economics, politics, poverty and how science might impact it with my guest, Jeffrey Sachs, author of "The End of Poverty: Economic Possibilities for our Time." Joining us also is Lester Brown, author of "Outgrowing the Earth: The Food Security Challenge in an Age of Falling Water Tables and Rising Temperatures."

Lester Brown, rising temperatures? Let's go right to the title of your book. Is global warming--that will no doubt affect agriculture in the world?

Mr. BROWN: In the last few years, crop ecologists have begun to focus on the precise relationship between temperature and crop yields, and the results of that research have been published in The Proceedings of the National Academy here in Washington, also in Science magazine. But the rule of thumb emerging from the research is that for each 1 degree Celsius rise in temperature during the growing season--that's 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit--we can expect a 10 percent decline in grain yields--wheat, rice and corn. So high temperatures are a real threat to food security, and it's something that farmers themselves have very little control over.

FLATOW: Well, but wouldn't you might argue that a rise in temperature might mean you're able to grow crops in places that might have been too cold to grow them before, so that you're shifting the growing areas?

Mr. BROWN: Well, two things. One, that would be a long-term issue if, in fact, it were a possibility, simply because people would not invest in opening up land in northern Siberia or northern Canada for agriculture unless they knew that higher temperatures were for real. But beyond that, the soils in those areas aren't all that good. When you look at North America, for example, and you look at the soils north of the Great Lakes and compare them with the soils south of the Great Lakes, there's really no comparison. I mean, there is no Corn Belt and Corn Belt soils north of the Great Lakes. They're rather thin, glaciated soils and would never produce very much, even if they were brought under cultivation.

FLATOW: 1 (800) 989-8255 is our number. Jeffrey, poverty--what kind of impact will global warming have on world poverty?

Prof. SACHS: We're already seeing impacts, so it's not just a hypothetical. What we're seeing is changing precipitation patterns, especially in drought-prone areas that can push people right over the edge. This year, as in many recent years, there is a drought in Malawi, one of the poorest countries in the world. The drought led to a massive failure of the maize crop. The most recent evidence suggests that this is quite possibly--though not surely, but quite possibly a signal of manmade climate change, because it's associated with the warming of the Indian Ocean, which itself is clearly associated with anthropogenic or manmade climate change.

So we're already in the midst of rising temperatures and changing precipitation patterns. We're going to need obviously to take that issue extraordinarily more seriously, and Europe, the rest of the world is. The Bush administration has turned its back on it, but now American business is understanding much faster than the administration we have to take this seriously.

FLATOW: Lester Brown, in your book, you point out that the water tables are falling, and I guess that's going to, as you point out, create a tug-of-war between whether you want to drink water or do you want to grow food with the water?

Mr. BROWN: Well, food production is a water-intensive process. I think on average, each of us drinks, in one form or another, about four liters of water a day, as water is coffee, tea, juice, pop, beer or whatever. But the food that we consume each day requires 2,000 liters of water to produce or 500 times as much. And that's what most of us don't realize. I got the page proofs back recently on an article I'd written and made this point, and the editor circled the `2,000 liters of water per day to produce food' and said, `Don't you mean 2,000 liters per year?' And that's not an unusual reaction, because most of us are simply not sensitive to how much water it takes to produce food, and that's why the climate fluctuations that Jeff was just referring to, more extreme events--either floods or droughts--and more intense heat waves are of mounting concern in the scientific community.

FLATOW: Where is all this food going to come from to feed--well, we were talking about before--I mentioned that the population had entered nine billion, and I guess the growing superpower in the world now is China which will have the largest appetite of anybody. Where is all that food going to come from to feed all these people?

Mr. BROWN: Well, that's the key question. One of the things that I doubt very much is that we're going to see another three billion people by the midcentury as projected. And one of the exciting things about Jeff's proposal of eradicating poverty is it is the key to accelerating the shift to smaller families worldwide. If we look at the projected growth in population, the additional three billion by the midcentury, almost all are coming in the developing countries, and the vast majority in countries where water tables are already falling and wells are going dry. And that's not a formula for progress and stability. And my guess is that within the next few years, we're going to see the climate and water issues both surfacing in fairly dramatic ways and, in effect, providing a wake-up call on the environment.

FLATOW: So you think that--and I'll ask both of you. So you think that water is going to supersede oil as something that people are going to start fighting over?

Prof. SACHS: We seem to have a way to fight over almost anything, don't we? But I think the point that Lester made that I'd like to underscore--the population is growing fastest in the poorest countries, and this is a pretty systematic fact on our planet and has been for a long time. As people escape from extreme poverty, they tend to choose to have fewer children, and that's what gives us the chance, indeed, for a sustainable future on the planet is that after the incredible explosive growth of population over the last two centuries, we really could level off, but at what number?

When I have proposed, as I've been doing in the book and in many other places, that we really target extreme poverty and get it under control, people ask, `Well, aren't you just saving people that are going to starve in adulthood?' and I try to explain, just as Lester has, it's exactly the opposite. If we can target extreme poverty, we can speed the demographic transition. that means we can speed the choice of very poor families to have fewer children, by educating girls and women, empowering women, having children survive so that families feel the confidence to choose to have very few children and, of course, having family planning and contraception available.

These are all practical steps that could get the fertility rates, which are now still around six in rural Africa--that means six children per woman--down to three or less, even within a decade or a decade and a half, but we'd have to help Africans to get there. We'd have to help by targeting extreme poverty.

FLATOW: Well, I was going to say that--and these are very poor places to begin with--are you just talking about bringing funds, cash, in and developing these resources, the education, the health, things like that?

Prof. SACHS: Well, it's not even cash that's needed. It's tools to be more productive. The farmers in sub-Saharan Africa use essentially no inputs, other than the most basic implements. They do not replenish soil nutrients. The...

FLATOW: No fertilizer.

Prof. SACHS: There's no fertilizer, either organic or chemical, used on most of they staple crops of Africa and, therefore, the yields are about a third or a fourth of what they would be under similar agronomic conditions, but with soils that held nutrients.

FLATOW: And they know they need it, they would...

Prof. SACHS: Oh, there...

FLATOW: It's not ignorance about how to be a farmer.

Prof. SACHS: They can't afford it.


Prof. SACHS: And now there are new scientific approaches, one developed by my colleague at the Earth Institute of Columbia University, Dr. Pedro Sanchez, who won the World Food Prize for it, showing how to use an organic agriforestry approach where you use leguminous trees--that is, nitrogen-fixing trees--to replenish the soil nutrients, and you can triple yields. But it costs some capital up front to get that farming system going. Where's the United States in helping these impoverished people? It's absolutely nowhere to be seen. Instead, we're sending military attaches to find military approaches to what they call counterinsurgency in the poorest places in the world. It makes absolutely no sense.

FLATOW: And the agribusiness people are not making those kinds of seeds or genetically modified seeds that would help these people any better. But I guess that might not help if you don't have the fertilizer to plant the seeds with.

Prof. SACHS: Agriculture is a package. To have the high yields that could feed the families and help them get out of extreme poverty, you need improved seeds. You need water, such as drip irrigation. And you need soil nutrients. Now the technologies exist, but they cost a little bit of money. And if you have zero money, a little bit of money is too much money. And that's the problem. They're trapped in poverty, even though we can see scientifically sound approaches to helping them get out of it.

That's what the United States and Europe ought to be helping them with, but again, instead, we just don't do it. We blame the poor for their problems, we watch as the populations soar, we watch as children die by the millions, and then we send military attaches because we think that somehow the Pentagon's going to fix this problem.

FLATOW: Lester Brown, is there any science or technology fix here?

Mr. BROWN: Well, Jeff was mentioning that cash is not always the solution. Sometimes it's a simple institutional advance. One of my favorite examples has occurred in India where close to 30 years ago, a young enterprising Indian saw that, in a lot of villages in India, there was actually a small surplus of milk being produced, and he created the first dairy marketing cooperatives that would collect these small quantities of milk, process it and then market it. And as a result of that, a movement in the cooperative--it's now spread throughout almost all of India--India's milk production has overtaken that of the United States and per-capita milk consumption in India has doubled. The value of milk production in India, all coming from small herds of two or three cows each, exceeds the value of the rice harvest. And 30 years ago, this simply was not there. It's been a major contribution to raising incomes in rural areas of small farmers, very small holdings, and they've done it almost entirely with feeding the cows crop residues--rice straw, wheat straw, corn stalks and so forth--using virtually no feed, no grain concentrate, as we use in this country for dairy feeding, to do this.

And so they've really created a second harvest from the wheat or the rice crop by feeding the straw and converting it into milk. And this is exactly the innovative sort of thing that's needed to help get the billion or so people that Jeff writes about out of poverty.

FLATOW: You write in various articles that the Chinese are getting less arable land, other factors leading to a steady decline in their grain harvest, which means they're going to have to buy it from someplace else. What's that going to--and the Chinese are, you know, going to have a great hunger for it as they get to be more affluent. What--how is that going to impact the rest of the world and poverty and water for other places?

Mr. BROWN: Well, what we're looking at is the likelihood that within the next few years, China will be coming into the world market for 30, 40, 50 million tons of grain, more grain than any country in history. When it does this--and it'll be doing this because it's losing so much cropland to industrialization and because of the depletion of its aquifers and the shrinkage of the water supply--but when it does this, it will necessarily have to come to the United States, because the US supplies almost half of the world's grain exports. So we're looking at a potentially fascinating geopolitical situation where we have 1.3 billion Chinese consumers who have a $170 billion trade surplus with the United States competing with US consumers for US grain and quite possibly driving up grain and food prices in the United States.

Now China's trade surplus with the United States alone is enough to buy the entire US grain harvest three times. So it's not a question of do the Chinese have the purchasing power to compete--they do. The question is, what will be the US response?

Now 30 years ago, when countries came into the US market and drove up food prices, we simply restricted exports. But it would be difficult to do that with China because we now have a stake in a politically stable China. It is the engine that's driving the Asian economy and, to a substantial degree, the world economy. It's also the country that's holding a lot of US debt now. I mean, they're financing our deficit. So I think we're going to see a situation where within a few years, we're going to be loading one or two ships with grain every day going to China. There will be a long line of ships tying the two countries together. And managing that flow of grain so as to be responsive to both US consumers and Chinese consumers is going to be one of the big foreign policy challenges of the years ahead.

One step beyond that, and that is that China's entry into the world market on a large scale for grain imports could drive up world grain imports and destabilize governments in low-income countries that are heavily dependent on imported grain. That could then disrupt global economic progress, affect the Nikkei Index, the Dow Jones 500 and so forth. At that point, we might begin to realize that the environmental trends that we've been ignoring, whether it's falling water tables, rising temperatures, soil erosion or what have you, are going to have to be attended to.

FLATOW: We're talking about poverty, the environment and science this hour on TALK OF THE NATION/SCIENCE FRIDAY from NPR News; talking with Jeffrey Sachs, author of "The End of Poverty: Economic Possibilities for Our Time," and Lester Brown, "Outgrowing the Earth: Food Security Challenge in an Age of Falling Water Tables and Rising Temperatures."

Jeffrey, did you want to jump in there?

Prof. SACHS: Yeah, I wanted to jump in with the point that Lester himself has made so well in the past, just to add on to what he's saying about Chinese demand. We just had the report yesterday of the accelerated and, indeed, unexpected deforestation rate in the Amazon, which came in, according to the satellite evidence, as being much higher than had been forecast by the Brazilian government. Now we're seeing more and more that this is for the extension of soybean production in the margins of the Amazon rain forest. And that's being driven by Chinese demand. President Hu Jintao was in Brazil earlier this year making big contracts.

One of the things, if we're not paying attention--and we are not paying attention, that's for sure right now. If we're not paying attention, the increased demand that's coming with rising incomes and population growth, if not combined with proper policy and proper science, will lead to the kind of environmental devastation that we're seeing with the continuing deforestation in the Amazon and the loss of so many other ecosystems. So all of these things are interconnected.

Our government is almost blind to this because, A, the administration is seemingly not interested, and, B, the government is not organized in a science-based way. Indeed, we seem to be turning our back on science when we need it more than ever before. The solutions for sustainable development won't just come through good feeling and goodwill, even if we had that, which we don't--that's in short supply. It's going to require science to figure out our way through a world population of between six and nine billion people, rising demands on our ecosystems that are already stretching things to the limit, and people at the bottom end of this who are vulnerable with their lives by the millions if we don't attend to their needs and help them at least get off the precipice of disaster which they live on every day.

FLATOW: We're going to take a short break and come back and talk more, take your calls--1 (800) 989-8255; 1 (800) 989-TALK. We'll take some calls, talk more with Jeffrey Sachs and Lester Brown. Stay with us. We'll be right back.

I'm Ira Flatow. This is TALK OF THE NATION/SCIENCE FRIDAY from NPR News.


FLATOW: You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION/SCIENCE FRIDAY. I'm Ira Flatow.

We're taking this hour about how science and technology might help us solve problems of hunger and disease. And our broadcast is part of Think Global 2005. That's a collaboration of public radio programs, each looking at how people fit into the complex web of global interaction in today's world.

Our number: 1 (800) 989-8255.

Lester, some--you know, part of the hunger that developing countries have is for fossil fuels. Many times in the past, we've heard of developing nations leapfrogging technologies. Instead of getting a telephone, you give them a cell phone or they get the Internet wired. Is it possible that China and other developing nations might be able to leapfrog energy into something better than the fossil fuels?

Mr. BROWN: That's what I...

FLATOW: And are they willing to try something like that?

Mr. BROWN: Well, in thinking about China, for example, which is a great example of simply leapfrogging the old-fashioned line phones and going directly to cell phones, I keep hoping that something like that will happen in energy. And there are signs now that it might. They're beginning to gear up in a serious way to develop their wind resources. China happens to have enough harnessable wind energy to double its current national electric generating capacity. And so it's a matter of encouraging them to take the initiative and get out in front on some of these things.

I notice also they're beginning to invest substantially in solar cell manufacturing now, and that's another good sign. But developing countries will be making a mistake if they try to go through all the stages we've gone through, especially the intensive fossil fuel stage, because if we have to lower the boom and reduce carbon emissions because we're in serious trouble on the climate front, which certainly could happen, then they would be much better off if they're moving toward the alternative, more advanced energy sources rather than traditional ones such as coal.

FLATOW: 1 (800) 989-8255.

Jeffrey Sachs, in trying to get people out of poverty, do you get into sort of a Catch-22, because if they get out of poverty, now they start demanding these things that are going to be snowballing and creating more demand for things that might put them back, or put other people, in poverty?

Prof. SACHS: Well, I think the first point is that the poorest of the poor have no demand on these global forces right now. Africa's contribution to global climate change through carbon emission is almost nothing. So taking steps to help people back from the abyss is not going to worsen this particular problem that we're talking about, the global management of the energy systems. That's very important, because we don't want to try to balance the books on the backs of people that are impoverished and dying right now. And it couldn't even work if we tried.

Second, as we said, if you get these people out of poverty, we can head off population growth that is very rapid right now and help preserve environmental sustainability in the places where they live, rather than the rain forests of Africa being torn down, the mangrove coastal areas, the inland fisheries which are under such stress--the great ape populations--under such stress through illegal hunting, desperation for food, indeed, then we'll be able to both help people get off the edge of disaster themselves and sustain the environment better. So the trade-offs really aren't there in that regard.

But what is true is that no matter how you look at it, for a world where five-sixths of the world's population, five billion people, are in developing countries, and they want their place in the sun, we are going to need a new kind of energy system for the 21st century. Don't balance it on the backs of the poorest of the poor, but do realize that for the world as a whole, we're going to need effective, sustainable energy directions which we don't have right now. And it's going to be a long-term investment. The United States is going to have to play a role. Our businesses now sense that. Our financial markets now sense it. The White House and a few other contrarians are the last to know it, unfortunately. But everybody else is seeing it.

FLATOW: You talk about big five, five big interventions. Let's go through concrete solutions. One, you say, boosting agriculture.

Prof. SACHS: In Africa right now, the yields are one ton per hectare for growing corn, for example, or maize. This could be three tons within the next year or two, in fact, if we help farmers with basic inputs, whether it's drip irrigation and chemical or organic fertilizer to replenish soil nutrients. So that's the first. Africa didn't have a green revolution to be able to feed itself, but it could have one in sustainable ways with current new science technologies that haven't yet reached the poor.

FLATOW: Improving basic health.

Prof. SACHS: This is the most direct and straightforward. Three million children will die this year of malaria, a disease which is 100 percent treatable and largely preventable. It's something as simple as a bed net impregnated with insecticide and the right kinds of pills, but we again have turned our back on impoverished, dying people. If the United States and the other rich countries asked our populations to give just $3 per person per year--one cup of coffee at Starbucks per person per year--this would enough to amass the fund to control malaria in Africa. It's unbelievable we're not doing that.

FLATOW: Investing in education.

Prof. SACHS: This is, again, very simple. There are hundreds of millions of children that are not in school right now. But time and again, it's been shown, offer a midday school meal, and the poorest of the poor will make sure their children are in school. And that requires raising farm productivity and then using some of that for school meals using the locally produced food. And where that's done, it works. We should just make sure it's reaching all of the hunger hot spots of the world.

FLATOW: Bringing in electricity.

Prof. SACHS: Well, again, whether it's solar panels to help run a rural clinic or a diesel generator for people that have absolutely nothing and need some modern electricity so they're not relying on killer fuel wood which poisons the lungs of young children and causes deforestation. We have very direction, simple remedies with current technology, and they could improve a lot if we invested more in photovoltaics and other renewable methods.

FLATOW: And finally, you say, providing clean water and the sanitation that goes with that.

Prof. SACHS: Again, with water, it's a multiplicity of technologies. To use water on the crops, it's something as simple as drip irrigation; treadle pumps for groundwater. For drinking water, there are innumerable ways to purify water at low cost using solar filters, or just digging groundwater in a few places, in safe, protected wells for villages that right now are using open sources.

FLATOW: If you did these things, if you had a village and you could do these five areas, how do you know you don't have to keep just doing it and pumping money over and over again? People want to hear, you know, I'd rather have you invest in that instead of just donating to it.

Prof. SACHS: This is obviously investment, this is not charity, because what happens when you can produce three tons corn per hectare rather than one is that you don't need to have all your land for a staple crop. You can then use some of your time for food processing, for that so-called white revolution that followed the green revolution in India, the white revolution being the milk revolution that Lester talked about.

Once you can grow enough food, then you have both time and land for commercialization of agriculture and for non-agricultural activities, whether it's food processing and furniture or many, many other things that can be done. But first, get out of extreme hunger. And that, raising food productivity rather than cutting down rain forests for new land, that's really the key.

FLATOW: Lester Brown, your book is called "Outgrowing the Earth: The Food Security Challenge in an Age of Falling Water Tables and Rising Temperatures." Can we meet the challenge? What are some solutions that you suggest?

Mr. BROWN: Probably the most important single thing right now is to raise water productivity. Water is becoming a severe constraint on efforts to expand food production in large areas of the world. I have a feeling if Malthus were writing his famous essay today, he might well write about population and water instead of population and food, because water is not only important in its own right; it's also important--it's also the key to expanding food production in large areas of the world.

FLATOW: Is there enough water to go around?

Mr. BROWN: I think there is if we use it efficiently. The situation we're in with water today is very similar to that with land a half century ago. Up until the middle of the last century, from the beginning of agriculture up until then, increases in food production have come largely from expanding cultivated area. Rises in land productivity were scarcely perceptible within a given generation. But we looked ahead in the early 1950s to the end of the century, saw enormous population growth coming; realized there wasn't even then much new land to bring under the plow. So we concentrated on raising land productivity, investing heavily in agricultural research, commodity price incentives for farmers to encourage them to invest, extension services, farm credit services and so forth. And the result is we have nearly tripled land productivity since 1950. Now we need to do exactly the same thing with water.

I wanted to add on the question you asked Jeff a few minutes ago about, you know, so you save all these people and help them become more affluent and they consume more and put more pressure on resources, that's true. But a lot of societies right now are in a situation where they're either going to break out and they're going to make it, or they're going to start breaking down. And one of the most costly things that we can--one of the things we can least afford now is more failed states like Afghanistan, Somalia, Haiti. And what happens when we get failed states is, first of all, they're training grounds for terrorists. But beyond that, we lose the cooperation needed to control infectious diseases, for example.

We have a classic example recently where, as of a couple of years ago, polio was largely eradicated around the world except in maybe four or five countries. And then in northern Nigeria, Muslim leaders began spreading rumors about the polio vaccination contributing to infertility and spreading AIDS and so forth, and so the program stopped for a while. As a result, the number of polio cases in northern Nigeria increased, and probably because of the Mecca--people going to Mecca each year from many countries and mixing together, it suddenly spread into a lot of other countries across Africa, and right now the number of countries that have at least some cases of polio is double what it was a year or so ago.

The risk everyone's afraid of is that it will get into Somalia, where it will not be possible to vaccinate for it and contain it, for example, because there is no government in that geographic area on the map that we call Somalia; it's a failed state. And that's the costly side of this, and that's the risk of trying to solve everything with the military interventions. It becomes impossible, as Jeff was pointing out. And it would only take a small share of the global military budget to eradicate poverty and deal with some of these environmental issues that are undermining the future of so many of the world's people.

FLATOW: We're talking about global issues and possible science and technology solutions to them on TALK OF THE NATION/SCIENCE FRIDAY from NPR News, part of the Think Global 2005 collaboration.

Let me go further with that. Jeffrey, you talk about something called technology reversal where you might have something like an AIDS in Africa or some--maybe this bird flu might come out and just totally reverse everything that's gone on to bring a country into development.

Prof. SACHS: Well, think about AIDS itself, you know. This is a disease which spread from chimpanzee to human populations, probably about 60 or 70 years ago. It wasn't detected because we're not paying attention to health in Africa. It was only detected after it had already spread widely, and then it was recognized as a new disease decades after it had actually emerged as a human disease. We pay for that with a worldwide pandemic because we're not even paying attention up to this point.

And I'd like to make this point about what are the costs involved. I think American people are very surprised to hear that we're spending this year $500 billion on the military; 500 billion--half of the world's military spending just in our country alone. And we're spending 2 billion for everything we're doing for Africa for development. So 250 times more on the military than on the peaceful approach. I don't see how anyone can think that this makes sense in a world of Somalias and Darfurs and all the other instabilities that we face and the risks of failed states and terror and disease spread. This is just the most profoundly incorrect mismanagement of our public resources for investing in our own security. To put 250 times more in the military approach than in the peaceful, developmental approach just doesn't make sense.

FLATOW: And we might gain more friends from peaceful...

Prof. SACHS: Well, not only--exactly. We would control disease, we would sharply reduce the risks of failed states that are more than risks--they're realities; we'd win some friends, we'd win gratitude in future years, which we're going to want and we're going to need.

FLATOW: Lester, you got about a minute.

Mr. BROWN: One of the reasons that some of the leaders in the corporate community are beginning to push for action in some of these areas, whether it's climate stabilization or poverty eradication or what have you, is because they're beginning to feel some of the cost of the anti-Americanism that's developed around the world over the last few years. People like Jeffrey and myself who travel a lot are exposed to this in a way that many Americans are not. But what's happening is, this is translating into a resistance to US labels, whether it's Coca-Cola or General Motors or what have you. And I think it's going to be costly to the US business community as this situation--if this situation continues.

FLATOW: All right, gentlemen, we could talk a lot more about this, and we'll pick it up in the future. I want to thank both of you for taking the time to talk with me.

Lester Brown, president of the Earth Policy Institute, author of "Outgrowing the Earth: The Food Security Challenge in an Age of Falling Water Tables and Rising Temperatures." Jeffrey Sachs, director of the Earth Institute at Columbia. His new book is "The End of Poverty: Economic Possibilities for our Time."

Thank you, gentlemen, for taking the time to be with us.

Mr. BROWN: Thank you so much.


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I'm Ira Flatow in New York.

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