Many in the international development community bemoan the billions of US dollars that have been wasted on white elephant projects and development campaigns in Africa.
However, some analysts insist that when aid has been well targeted in the past, it has proved highly effective.
The eradication of smallpox is one example, and although outbreaks persist in Nigeria, Pakistan and Afghanistan, polio is also on the verge of being a disease of the past.
Other immunization campaigns, when properly funded, have also been extremely successful. Specific diseases such as onchocerciasis (African river blindness) and lymphatic filariasis (elephantiasis) have been controlled in many regions in Africa.
“There are dozens, perhaps hundreds, of successful models of aid delivery at district level for health services, school meals, food production, enterprise development, water and sanitation, and much more, says Ms Erin Trowbridge, director of Global Communications for the Earth Institute at Columbia University and for the Millennium Villages Project.
“Also important to note is that this amount of money over this many years for hundreds of millions of people is actually very small, but even small amounts when well used have saved and improved millions of lives. On this basis, there is a strong case for doing more.”
As 2015 approaches, the world is turning its attention to the UN’s Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), with the verdict that overall, they have been the most effective global poverty-alleviation projects in the history of humanity.
The MDGs have improved the quality of life for millions of people around the world, and its overwhelming success in developing countries like Kenya has inspired similar efforts in developed countries.
“No one has a monopoly on good ideas,” said New York’s outgoing mayor, Mr Michael Bloomberg, “which is why New York will continue to learn from the best practices of other cities and [developing] countries.”
Successful anti-poverty projects have resulted in, among other things, higher primary and secondary school enrollment, lower rates of maternal and infant mortality, better nutrition and food security.
“Developing countries have made substantial progress towards the achievement of the MDGs, although the progress is highly variable across goals, countries, and regions,” says Dr Jeffery Sachs, Special Advisor to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon on the MDGs and brains behind the Millennium Villages Project.
“Mainly because of the startling economic growth in China, developing countries as a whole have cut the poverty rate by half between 1990 and 2010. Some countries will achieve all or most of the MDGs, whereas others will achieve very few.”
TOO POOR TO STAY ALIVE
Mr Sachs is undaunted by the herculean development challenges Africa and the developing world faces. In November 2006, Sachs addressed the General Assembly of the United Nations and bluntly stated: “Millions of people die every year for the stupid reason they are too poor to stay alive.… That is a plight we can end.”
Sachs has done more than anyone else to move the issue of global poverty into the mainstream with some large measure of success.
When Kenya’s health sector was in critical condition during the mid-to late 2000s, Sachs worked closely with Mrs Charity Ngilu, who was Kenya’s Minister for Health at the time.
He argued Mrs Ngilu’s case to the World Bank, International Monetary Fund, foreign aid donors, and to Kenya’s bureaucrats. And thanks to his intervention, Mrs Ngilu was able to scale up Kenya’s health programmes and international funding for them. In a more recent development, the government distributed 3.4 million insecticide-treated bed nets.
Meanwhile, new cases of HIV/Aids have fallen even as the number of patients receiving anti-retroviral treatment has sharply increased.
“If it wasn’t for Prof Jeffrey Sachs, we would not have moved forward,” Mrs Ngilu was quoted as saying, “Those people who are on treatment would still be dying. Those children who are under bed nets would be dead. Women would not be accessing care.”
Kenya can also be proud of its Millennium Villages Project, which aims to promote sustainable, community-led development towards achieving the MDGs. It’s a humanitarian and development experiment in a world largely plagued by, among other challenges, easily curable diseases, hunger and malnutrition. Sachs himself would say it’s an experiment humanity cannot afford not to try.
The first Millennium Village was in Sauri, a remote cluster of farming communities in western Kenya in Yala, Siaya County.
It not just the first, but also the largest, with 11 villages and covering 8 square kilometres. Sauri’s well-watered humid and semi-humid zones support arable agriculture, and hence a high population density.
Sauri’s subsistence farmers rely on maize and beans as their staple crops. Land area per household for farming is around 0.6 hectares, which is generally insufficient to support an average family.
Before the project, farmers produced an average of 82 kgs of maize per person per year, a deficit of 18 kg per child and 38 kg per adult.
Malaria was prevalent year-round. When the Millennium Villages Project started operating in Sauri, almost 80 per cent of the population earned less than US$1 (Sh86) per day, and 59 per cent of children under five showed signs of stunting, a sign of chronic malnutrition.
INCREASED AGRICULTURAL YIELDS
But Sauri has been a highly successful Millennium Village on many fronts. Agricultural productivity has risen to five tonnes per hectare on some farms.
In addition, there has been substantial diversification of incomes in bee-keeping and fish farming, In addition, a new dairy cooperative gathers 300 members and pasteurizes over 600 litres of milk per day. Malaria prevalence has decreased markedly and the project is aiming to bring deaths from malaria to almost zero by 2015.
Thousands of children are given a daily meal during the school year and the proportion of underweight children has declined sharply.
In addition, almost all children are now immunized and a very high proportion of pregnant women is tested for HIV and offered counselling. Families in Sauri now have greater access to clean water and electricity.
But the greater challenge is in Dertu Millennium Village in north-eastern Kenya, approximately 140 kilometres from the border with Somalia. The centre is approximately 95 kilometres north of Garissa (the provincial capital). Dertu is arid and there have been many droughts in recent years.
One writer has described it as a place of biblical catastrophes since it is prone to famines, droughts, floods and pestilences, and is these chronic afflictions that have led to Dertu’s high poverty levels and perennial dependency on food aid.
In addition, there was a high rate of malnutrition as well as high maternal and child mortality and morbidity. Illiteracy was the norm; a vicious circle with seemingly no way out.
Dertu remains challenging for development agencies. Continued armed conflict in neighbouring Somalia has caused many NGOs to pack up and leave. However, the Millennium Villages Project continues to assist the local community.
The expansion of the Millennium Village Project in other parts of Africa is a testament to its overall success. In July 2013, the Ugandan government announced it would scale up the Millennium Villages Project in the original region around the Ruhiira Millennium Village through funding from the Islamic Development Bank.
The following month, the Millennium Villages Project announced that the Islamic Development Bank would provide $105 million (Sh9b) in interest-free loans to eight countries towards ending extreme poverty, improving public health and more sustainable development. All in all, there are more than 20 countries that are hosting or starting Millennium Village-related projects.
In it publication publication, Can Project-Funded Investments in Rural Develoment Be Scaled-Up? Lessons from the Millennium Villages Project, in 2008, the Overseas Development Institute (ODI), an independent think-tank on international development and humanitarian issues, noted that there had been major increases in crop yield and control of malaria.
In many Millennium Village sites, agricultural surpluses can be channelled into school meal programmes, helping to increase enrollment. Improvements in health status are reported to increase labour productivity.
According to ODI policy conclusions, in order for wider scale, more sustainable implementation to be achieved, village projects need to identify shared goals, seeking evidence-based, cost-effective interventions by governments and implementing agencies.
They will also need to focus on addressing upstream investments such as training facilities for front-line staff.
Perhaps the biggest question before the Millennium Villages is sustainability. The project’s critics claim that once the external funding is fully phased out in 2015, the success the project has seen thus far will decline. But Ms Trowbridge is quick to come to the project’s defence.
“More than 23 countries have launched projects modelled on the Millennium Village Project; more than half of those are fully outside of the direct work of MVP and are being led by governments and UN agencies themselves,” she says.
The successes of the MDGs are also reflected in the willingness of the international community — in the form of the United Nation member states — to establish a new set of global goals in the same spirit as the MDGs. The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) will also have a 15- year-period and will try to help the more than one billion people who continue to live in extreme poverty.
“The idea of the SDGs has quickly gained ground because of the growing urgency of sustainable development for the entire world,” says Jeffrey Sachs.
“There has been a lot of improvement in the lives of the people in Dertu as a result of the presence of the Millennium Village [Project]”, says Farah Maalim Mohammed, former MP for Lagdera (north-east Kenya) and the site of the Dertu Millennium Village.
“In a holistic manner I think the programme has assisted the people of Dertu in a manner that has not been done for the 40 odd years since independence before the programme was initiated in Dertu.”
What the Millennium Goals and Villages aim to achieve
The Millennium Development Goals are eight time-bound targets for addressing poverty in its various dimensions. They were adopted at the Millennium Summit in September 2000, the largest gathering of world leaders in history.
About Millennium Villages
- The Millennium Villages Project is a partnership between the Earth Institute of the University of Columbia in the US and the United Nations Office for Project Services. One of the key drivers of the project is economist Prof. Jeffrey Sachs.
- Millennium Villages are designed to demonstrate how the Millennium Development Goals can be met in rural Africa though community-led development.
- The Millennium Villages seek to end extreme poverty by working with the poorest of the poor, village by village throughout Africa, in partnership with governments and other committed stakeholders, providing affordable and science-based solutions to help people lift themselves out of extreme poverty.
- The initiative works with local communities, NGOs and national governments to show how rural African communities can improve their lives using a proven and technologies that can improve their farm health, education, farm productivity, and access to markets.
- The villages are located in distinctly contrasting agro-ecological zones to reflect the range of farming, water, and disease challenges facing the continent and to show how tailored strategies can overcome each one of them.
- The first Millennium Village was started in Sauri, Kenya in August 2004, and the second in Koraro, Ethiopia , in February 2005 and also saw tremendous progress.
Currently, there are 12 village sites in 10 African countries namely Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Malawi, Mali, Nigeria, Rwanda, Senegal, Tanzania and Uganda.