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A blueprint to fight poverty around the world

A push by developed nations could cut poverty in half with in a generation, the UN says amid signs of progress.

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Four years ago Tanzania eliminated school fees and increased its education budget 130 percent. The result: Enrollment in primary schools jumped 50 percent. Girls are equal in number to boys in Tanzanian classrooms.

Fourteen years ago Vietnam was struck by a malaria epidemic. The government fought back, distributing insecticide-treated bed nets for free, among other things. Malaria fatalities were virtually eliminated.

As these examples show, the developing world is not an unrelieved landscape of despair. When high-level government vision and support are accompanied by a significant increase in funds - often aid from richer countries - problems of poverty can be overcome, according to a detailed new UN report.

Thus a redoubled effort on the part of the developed world, including substantial increases in funding, could halve world poverty in a generation, according to the report of the United Nations Millennium Project. If nothing else, this advocacy of a sort of shock therapy for the worst-off raises anew an old debate: How much help does foreign aid really provide?

"Money is absolutely crucial ... but there also needs to be structural change on the part of some [recipient] governments," says John Hammock, a humanitarian aid expert at the Fletcher School at Tufts University in Medford, Mass.

The UN Millennium Project derives its name from the goals to alleviate hunger, disease, poverty, and misery adopted by world leaders at a 2000 summit.

Meeting these goals would both fulfill a moral obligation, and serve the developed world's self-interest, many leaders said at the time. For instance, in 2002 President Bush said, "... Persistent poverty and oppression can lead to hopelessness and despair. And when governments fail to meet the most basic needs of their people, these failed states can become havens for terror."

Research even suggests that there may be a relationship between economic shock and fighting in unstable nations.

"On average, a negative economic growth shock of 5 percentage points increases civil-war risks by about 50 percent," according to the Millennium Project.

By some measures, the world has made progress in this battle in recent years. Average overall income went up by 22 percent between 1990 and 2002. That translates into an estimated 130 million fewer people in extreme poverty.

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