Education News

More than 800 Columbia University Students Attend Annual Sachs Student Lecture

2007-11-15

On November 7, Jeffrey D. Sachs, Director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University, gave his annual Columbia University Student Lecture. This year’s lecture was entitled “International Peace through Sustainable Development.” Sachs spoke to an audience of more than 800 Columbia and Barnard students on the importance of aid to developing nations, especially those in Africa, arguing that extreme poverty is a primary cause of warfare and that the United States should spend less on its military and more on development aid.

Sachs began by pointing out that most current violent conflicts are civil, with the notable exception of the war in Iraq. These conflicts, he continued, nearly always list the current scarcity of resources among their root causes. Sachs used the conflict in Darfur as an example, pointing out that rainfall in the region dropped off steeply in the 1980’s and has not yet picked up, causing food shortages and livestock deaths. It is this lack of water and subsequent lack of food that is to blame for the strife between groups, explained Sachs.

Sachs drove home his point by comparing the United States’ military budget, which totals some $650 billion this year, with its development aid budget, which he said he regretted to be in the millions, rather than billions. For the amount of money the Pentagon spends in forty-eight hours, according to Sachs, we could instead create and implement a comprehensive anti-malaria program in Africa including bednets, treatment and community health workers for the entire continent. Malaria’s complete eradication, he says, would be within reach if the Pentagon redirected two days’ worth of its spending to Africa.

“Jeff Sachs gives this lecture for our students every year, and it is a wonderful chance for them to see him speak outside of the classroom,” said Louise Rosen, Director of the Earth Institute’s Office of Academic and Research Programs. Rosen added, “he has inspired many of our students and helped us grow a lively community of budding practitioners and researchers on these issues.”

Max Fraden (CC ‘09), a pre-medical student majoring in economics, introduced Sachs. Fraden noted that his first contact with the Earth Institute Director came when he was working at the Millenium Villages site in Nyamata, Rwanda, where he was able to work on structuring loan programs for fertilizer and community-based health insurance as part of the Earth Institute’s Millenium Villages Project. During his introduction, Fraden professed his admiration for Sachs, calling him a “visionary” and remarking that it is in large part due to Sachs’ work that projects like the one he undertook in Rwanda have been able to develop from ideas into reality in less than a decade. Fraden later commented that “it was an honor to be able to introduce him.”


The evening ended with a question and answer period. Students questioned Sachs on how his ideas could be implemented in various countries. Sachs gave his most pointed answer when asked what ordinary citizens in the United States could do to bolster aid to developing nations: “vote.” He went on to elaborate that the most effective way for ordinary Americans to affect development policy is to pose questions about it to candidates and to vote intelligently based on candidates’ answers, especially in the 2008 presidential race.

Click here to watch a video of this lecture. 

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