Monday, October 30, 2006

NEW YORK — Acknowledging they can’t save the world by 2015, a group of U.N. ambassadors has decided international-aid efforts should be focused on improving global access to clean water, health services and education.

Five years after the world’s leaders pledged to meet a well-defined and ambitious set of “Millennium Development Goals,” the effort is making so little progress that in some areas conditions are getting worse.

To achieve maximum benefits from limited resources, two dozen U.N. ambassadors this weekend prioritized their goals to focus on those that are within reach and will have the largest social impact.

Falling to the bottom of the list are such projects as addressing climate change through carbon taxes, adopting a global currency to reduce financial instability and liberalizing trade barriers.

Anti-corruption efforts, reforming immigration policies and imposing the Kyoto Protocol were clustered toward the middle.

“There is this tendency in the United Nations, in government, the private sector, everywhere: You want it all,” said Bjorn Lomborg, director of the Copenhagen Consensus Center, which seeks to support the Millennium Development Goals by prioritizing resources.

“But you have to force yourself to say, ‘If I can’t have it all, what is first, second, etc.’ For the developing [nations], it’s really about better health, better food, more clean drinking water and sanitation.”

Specifically, two dozen U.N. diplomats who attended the weekend conference decided that preventing HIV/AIDS and improving the distribution of micronutrients and vitamins would deliver the most cost-effective results.

“The economists found that if you invest $1 in HIV prevention, you do something like $40 worth of social good,” Mr. Lomborg said. “When you spend $1 on climate change, you’re getting back as little as 25 cents. It’s expensive, and the benefits come far out into the future.”

Fighting malaria and malnutrition, improving access to clean water and sanitation and improving basic education all placed high on the cost-benefit analysis. Improving financial stability in poor nations placed toward the bottom, along with climate change.

“Do you want to do enormous amounts of good or just a little? Most ambassadors said they want to do a lot of good,” Mr. Lomborg said.

The participating diplomats represented Angola, Australia, Belarus, Canada, China, Denmark, Germany, India, Iraq, Mexico, Niger, Pakistan, Poland, Slovenia, Somalia, South Korea, Tanzania, Thailand, United Arab Emirates, Uganda, the United States, Vietnam, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

Their responses, Mr. Lomborg said, closely correspond to the responses of international economists, who were polled several months ago.

“It’s easy to say what you want at the top, but not so easy to say what’s at the bottom,” Mr. Lomborg noted.

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