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56S C IE N T IF I C A ME R I C A N S E P T E MB E R 2 0 05ELIMINATED?BY JEFFREY D. SACHS Market economics and globalization are lifting the bulk of humanity out of extreme poverty, but special measures are needed to help the poorest of the poorEX TREME POVERT Y could become a thing of the past in a few decades if the affluent countries of the world pony up a small percentage of their wealth to help the planet’s 1.1 billion indigent populations out of conditions of dire poverty. At the right, a Ghanaian village is served by a single water standpipe. CAN EXTREME POVERTY BE Almost everyone who ever lived was wretchedly poor. Famine, death from childbirth, infectious disease and count-less other hazards were the norm for most of history. Humanity’s sad plight started to change with the Industrial Revolution, beginning around 1750. New scientifi c insights and technological innovations enabled a growing proportion of the glob-al population to break free of extreme poverty.Two and a half centuries later more than five billion of the world’s 6.5 billion people can reliably meet their basic living needs and thus can be said to have es-caped from the precarious conditions that once governed everyday life. One out of six inhabitants of this planet, however, still struggles daily to meet some or all of such critical requirements as adequate nu-trition, uncontaminated drinking water, safe shelter and sanitation as well as ac-cess to basic health care. These people get by on $1 a day or less and are overlooked by public services for health, education and infrastructure. Every day more than 20,000 die of dire poverty, for want of food, safe drinking water, medicine or other essential needs.For the fi rst time in history, global economic prosperity, brought on by con-tinuing scientific and technological prog-ress and the self-reinforcing accumula-tion of wealth, has placed the world with-in reach of eliminating extreme poverty altogether. This prospect will seem fanci-ful to some, but the dramatic economic progress made by China, India and other low-income parts of Asia over the past 25 years demonstrates that it is realistic. Moreover, the predicted stabilization of the world’s population toward the middle of this century will help by easing pres-sures on Earth’s climate, ecosystems and natural resources—pressures that might otherwise undo economic gains.Although economic growth has shown a remarkable capacity to lift vast numbers of people out of extreme poverty, progress is neither automatic nor inevitable. Market forces and free trade are not enough. Many of the poorest regions are ensnared in a POVERTYI A N B E R R Y M a g n u m P h o to sCOPYRIGHT 2005 SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN, INC.
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58S C IE N T IF I C A ME R I C A N S E P T E MB E R 2 0 05poverty trap: they lack the fi nancial means to make the neces-sary investments in infrastructure, education, health care sys-tems and other vital needs. Yet the end of such poverty is fea-