Placing blame is not going to help get Africa out of the poverty trap, but focusing on the solutions at hand can, explained Professor Jeffrey D. Sachs this week. Professor Sachs, Quetelet Professor of Sustainable Development, Professor of Health Policy and Management, and Director of the Earth Institute, gave a lecture this past Tuesday, April 1, on The Earth Institute’s Approach to Initiatives in Africa. The event, co-hosted by The Institute of African Studies, was a great success. Professor Sachs spoke enthusiastically on practical solutions and progress in response to the unique poverty trap that exists in many Sub-Saharan African communities.
Professor Mamadou Diouf, Leitner Family Professor of African Studies and Director of the Institute of African Studies, introduced Professor Sachs. Diouf briefly outlined goals of the partnership between the IAS and the Earth Institute, which are centered on sustainable development issues. The Institute of African Studies aims to enable student discussion on the social and physical constraints in Africa, develop a lecture series on sustainable development in Africa, and ensure that students within the African Studies department are able to benefit from its partnership with the Earth Institute.
Professor Sachs began his lecture by addressing the relevance of African Studies and sustainable development. Sachs said that, in Africa, “sustainable development means the escape from poverty.” He spoke about the eight Millennium Development Goals, outlined by the United Nations, which aim to alleviate Africa’s setbacks with regard to environmental sustainability, public health, infrastructure, and women’s rights. While the MDGs are based on economics, engineering, and public health, Professor Sachs also spoke of a holistic approach, in which knowledge of Africa’s culture and history should be used to understand and facilitate sustainable development in Africa’s unique context.
Some of the “special challenges” associated with Sub-Saharan Africa’s unique poverty, as addressed by Professor Sachs, include food production, high disease burden, dense populations in the interior of the continent, obstacles to transportation and energy projects, and rapid population growth. With the assistance of the United Nations and philanthropy groups, Columbia’s Millennium Development Villages hope to provide an example of how to overcome these obstacles through the use of modern technology and agricultural techniques. A number of the goals for these villages, as Sachs outlined, are geared toward educational opportunities, agriculture and landscape restoration, logistics to break isolation, such as transportation, and improved sanitation for girls. Some of the other topics important to development that Sachs touched on were internet access, energy efficiency, and climate change awareness.
Following the lecture, Sachs engaged the audience in a question and answer session that allowed the participants to discuss their interests and involvement in various areas of sustainable development. Sachs kept the audience engaged throughout the lecture and discussion, and audience members left with a sense of the urgency of sustainable development issues and inspiration to take action.