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Sunday, Mar. 06, 2005
The End of Poverty
By Jeffrey D. Sachs
We can banish extreme poverty in our generation--yet 8 million people die each year because they are too
poor to survive. The trag edy is that with a little help, they could even thrive. In a bold new book, Jeffrey D.
Sachs shows how we can make it happen
It is still midmorning in Malawi when we arrive at a small village, Nthandire, about an hour outside of
Lilongwe, the capital. We have come over dirt roads, passing women and children walking barefoot with
water jugs, wood for fuel, and other bundles. The midmorning temperature is sweltering. In this
subsistence maize-growing region of a poor, landlocked country in southern Africa, families cling to life on
an unforgiving terrain. This year has been a lot more difficult than usual because the rains have failed. The
crops are withering in the fields that we pass.
If the village were filled with able-bodied men, who could have built rainwater-collecting units on rooftops
and in the fields, the situation would not be so dire. But as we arrive in the village, we see no able-bodied
young men at all. In fact, older women and dozens of children greet us, but there is not a young man or
woman in sight. Where, we ask, are the workers? Out in the fields? The aid worker who has led us to the
village shakes his head sadly and says no. Nearly all are dead. The village has been devastated by AIDS.
The presence of death in Nthandire has been overwhelming in recent years. The grandmothers whom we
meet are guardians for their orphaned grandchildren. The margin of survival is extraordinarily narrow;
sometimes it closes entirely. One woman we meet in front of her mud hut has 15 orphaned grandchildren.
Her small farm plot, a little more than an acre in all, would be too small to feed her family even if the rains
had been plentiful. The soil nutrients have been depleted so significantly in this part of Malawi that crop
yields reach only about a half-ton per acre, about one-third of normal. This year, because of the drought,
she will get almost nothing. She reaches into her apron and pulls out a handful of semi-rotten, bug-infested
millet, which will be the basis for the gruel she will prepare for the meal that evening. It will be the one
meal the children have that day.
I ask her about the health of the children. She points to a child of about 4 and says that the girl contracted
malaria the week before. The woman had carried her grandchild on her back for the six miles to the local
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