Economist: Donors Must Assist Cambodia

Cambodia’s reconstruction will not be accomplished alone, a leading US economist said Mon­day—the obstacles are too great.

Jeffrey Sachs, director of the Earth Institute at New York’s Columbia University, said the international community should bear more of the costs of development for poor countries. He spoke at the UNDP’s Leadership Dialogue on Millennium Goals.

In addition to suffering the devastating effects of decades of war, Cambodia has the added burdens of tropical diseases, an agricultural economy dependent on tropical seasons and a rampant HIV/AIDS problem, he said.

Even if the Cambodian government were perfect—“and I don’t think it is”—it still would not have enough money to meet the country’s needs, Sachs said. “It is not true that this is a challenge that can be met within the country.”

Help from international donors is crucial, he said, urging the government to write budgets based on what it needs—not what it has—and go to donors for the funds, he said.

Sachs, who advises governments on five continents as well as UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, singled out the US for criticism, saying it could give “a great deal more.”

The economist said the US spends just $0.01 out of every $100 it earns from taxes to help the world’s poor fight disease.

Referencing data from a report he worked on as chair of the World Health Organization, he said the minimum a government needs to provide adequate health care is $40 per person each year—at least $10 more than what the government can afford. Other expenses make it likely that the true amount Cambodia spends on its people’s health care is much less than $30 each.

Poor countries’ futures depend on international support, he said. But both sides have to work toward a realistic goal rather than making empty promises of reform and aid.

Sachs, who has been advising governments for 20 years, said donors repeatedly pretend to offer aid that never comes through, while governments create reforms that they never intend to implement. “That’s the tragedy I most dislike,” he said.

(Additional reporting by The Associated Press)

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