A crucial objective is to really accelerate the end of hunger (EFE/EPA/KIM/File)
When we set resolutions, we strive to define what we can do better in our own lives. Perhaps we could also use the occasion to consider how we might achieve that improvement on a larger scale.
In 2015, world leaders tried to tackle the major problems facing humanity by setting the Sustainable Development Goals, a collection of 169 targets to be achieved by 2030. The list included every imaginable lofty goal: eradicating poverty and diseases, stop war and climate change, protect biodiversity and improve education.
This year we will be halfway there, given the 2016-2030 time horizon, but far from reaching our supposed objectives. According to current trends, we will catch up with them half a century late. What is the main cause of this failure? Our inability to set priorities. There is little difference between having 169 targets and having none. We have equated fundamental objectives such as the eradication of infant mortality and basic education with well-intentioned but peripheral objectives, such as encouraging recycling and promoting lifestyles in harmony with nature. If we try to do it all at once, we risk doing too little, as we have done for the past seven years.
We should have identified and prioritized our most crucial objectives long ago. This is what the Copenhagen Consensus, together with several Nobel laureates and more than a hundred leading economists, has done, identifying where every dollar invested can generate the greatest benefit.
We could, for example, really speed up the end of famine. Despite great advances in recent decades, more than 800 million people still do not have enough to eat. Careful economic research helps identify ingenious and effective solutions.
Hunger hits hardest in the first thousand days of a child’s life, from conception and for the next two years. Children who are deficient in essential nutrients and vitamins grow more slowly, both physically and intellectually. They will attend school less, get lower grades, and be poorer and less productive as adults.
It may interest you: UNICEF warned of the possible death of millions of children in Africa if they do not receive urgent food and water support
We can effectively supply essential nutrients to pregnant mothers. A daily supply of a multivitamin/mineral supplement costs just over $2 per pregnancy. This helps babies’ brains develop better, making them more productive and better paid in adult life. Every dollar spent would bring a staggering $38 in social benefit. Why don’t we take this path first? Because in trying to please everyone, we spend a little on everything, essentially ignoring the most effective solutions.
Let’s also think about what we could achieve on the educational front. The world has finally managed to get most of its children into school. Unfortunately, schools are often of poor quality and more than half of the children in poor countries cannot read or understand a simple text by the age of ten.
Typically, schools have all 12-year-olds in the same class, even though they have very different levels of knowledge. Regardless of the level at which the teacher teaches, many will feel lost and others will get bored. The solution, proven around the world? Let each child spend an hour a day with a tablet that adapts the teaching exactly to her level. Even if the rest of the school day does not change, over the course of a year this will produce learning equivalent to three years of conventional education.
How much would it cost? The shared tablet, charging costs, and additional instruction from teachers cost about $26 per student, per year. But tripling the rate of learning in a single year makes each student more productive as adults, allowing them to generate an additional $1,700, in today’s money. Every dollar invested would bring $65 in long-term benefits.
When we fragment our attention and try to please everyone, we end up with policies that are superficially attractive but terribly ineffective. In addition to hunger and education, there are a dozen other incredibly effective policies, such as the drastic reduction in tuberculosis and corruption. These are objectives that we could and should achieve. The moral imperative is clear: we must do what is best first.
There is a solution, both personal and social. It is the path to a better future. Now, in 2023, let us set out to walk that path.
[Acerca de los autores: Bjorn Lomborg es presidente del Copenhagen Consensus Center y visiting fellow en Hoover Institution de la Universidad de Stanford. Su último libro en español es “Falsa alarma”. Jordan B. Peterson es profesor emérito de la Universidad de Toronto, y autor de los libros “Mapas de sentidos”, “12 Reglas para la vida” y “Más allá del orden”]
Hunger Index: the ranking of the countries that suffer the most Global education in emergency