UN adviser urges Israel to take on African poverty

Adviser to UN chief: Israel can contribute in fields such as agriculture, public health, medicine, and energy use.

wheat 88 (photo credit: )
wheat 88
(photo credit: )
The world has the wealth, the know-how and the technology to eradicate poverty and hunger in Africa - and Israel is a key part of the solution, said Prof. Jeffery Sachs, director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University and special adviser to United Nations Sec.-Gen. Ban Ki-Moon on the Millennium Development Goals. Israel has key knowledge and technology in several specific areas which are hugely important in Africa right now, said Sachs, the keynote speaker Sunday evening at the 50th anniversary conference of MASHAV, the Foreign Ministry's Center for International Cooperation. "What Israel can contribute can be transformative," he asserted, mentioned several fields such as agriculture in drylands, public health and medicine, and energy use. "I believe solar energy is the great transformative technology of the 21st century," Sachs said. "It's going to last a lot longer than oil, gas, and coal. It may not be exactly renewable, but we have a billion years left," Sachs joked. "What you can do in the Negev, you can certainly do in Africa. Africa is the world's leader in sunshine." Sachs said the world was woefully far behind in meeting the Millennium Development Goals, which include eradicating extreme poverty, hunger and epidemic diseases and keeping kids in school. He said the world had reached the halfway point in implementing them, which was extended to 2015 after they were not met by 2000. Not only was the world not on track, but there were new crises which had emerged like "the doubling of staple food prices in the last 12 months. Oil prices have soared to a record $130 a barrel, which in turn triples the price of fertilizer." The world renowned expert used some simple statistical comparisons to highlight his point. "The US will spend more on defense - $700 billion - this year, than has ever been given in aid to Africa, $500b.," he said angrily. Bringing his attention to Israel, Sachs noted that "US aid to Israel equals US aid to all of the countries of Africa." "Israel has benefited tremendously from foreign aid... no one can detract from what was built here. But now it's time to become a donor country after 60 years of receiving aid. Israel needs to take a bigger role, because it has vital knowledge and technology. Solutions can't be found without Israel. "Thirty years ago, Israel withdrew from Africa because of the shifting political climate. Times have changed. African leaders are desperately eager to have Israel as a partner. Israel is vital for this cause and this cause is vital for Israel. It will contribute much to Israel's wellbeing in the region and the world," Sachs declared. According to Sachs, Africa cannot pull itself up through its own efforts, as too many countries are caught in the poverty trap - too little tax money to make significant change. Public and private sectors around the world need to cooperate, Sachs said, to provide the 0.7% of annual global GNP promised to help Africa. We haven't gotten close to that amount ever, Sachs noted, but it's what the Wall Street firms give out in Christmas bonuses every year - $30b. Crisis in Africa leads to migrations and political instability, to which the world has reacted with fear and xenophobia rather than cooperation and understanding, Sachs said. "We need cooperation, but instead we react in fear and build walls," Sachs concluded. Other speakers highlighted the need for basic funds for African farmers to buy fertilizer, something which was not widely used in Africa because of its exorbitant expense. Both Dr. William D. Dar, director-general of ICRISAT - The International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-arid Tropics - and chairman of the Committee on Science and Technology of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification, and Gilbert Houngbo, director of the Regional Bureau for Africa, United Nations Development Program, stressed how green Africa could become with a bit more fertilizer. On the sidelines, Prof. Alon Tal, who has been part of the Foreign Ministry delegation to the UNCCD - United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification - for the past three years, was furious over Israel's lack of aid to Africa. "We have no foreign aid program," Tal told The Jerusalem Post. "We want to be one of the rich boys of the OECD but we give [nothing]." Tal praised MASHAV, but noted its dwindling resources. "MASHAV's courses and training are great but every year there are fewer of them. If you look at MASHAV's budget over time, it's a downward trend," Tal noted. "We don't give any money to the desertification treaty, which is one convention Israel has so much to give to. It was never even translated into Hebrew," Tal said. Tal also noticed that there was not one policymaker in the room during Sachs's speech. "He's a modern day prophet and not a single minister was here. [MKs Avishay Braverman and Tzipi Livni] gave their speeches and ran off," Tal said with disgusted. MASHAV was founded by Golda Meir in 1958 after a trip to Africa. MASHAV and the UNDP also signed a letter of intent at the conference. On Monday, the international attendees participated in a series of workshops to develop programs.