Letter to the Editor in The New York Times (March 6, 2005) by United Nations Under-Secretary-General Anwarul K. Chowdhury, in response to the editorial “Thousands Died in Africa Yesterday” (February 27, 2005 issue of the newspaper)

Published: March 6, 2005
To the Editor:

In “Thousands Died in Africa Yesterday” (editorial, Feb. 27), you point out that “when it comes to Africa, where hundreds of thousands of poor men, women and children die needlessly each year from preventable diseases, or unnatural disasters like civil wars, much of the developed world seems to have a heart of stone.”

Of the world’s 50 least-developed countries, 34 are in Africa. As a group, they remain marginalized in the world economy and continue to suffer from extreme poverty.
The international community took a step forward three years ago to focus attention on the weakest and most vulnerable countries by establishing a special office at the United Nations to be their advocate.

While you take a first step by declaring that “yesterday, more than 20,000 people perished of extreme poverty,” the world should not forget that 1.4 million children die each year because they lack access to something as basic as safe drinking water.

The least-developed countries, particularly those in Africa, face the challenge of a huge, unsustainable debt service payment. Many countries are paying more toward debt servicing than their earnings in exports. Consequently, their economic growth and development are stunted.

Only full debt cancellation would free the resources needed for investment in health and education and for fulfilling the basic needs of their people.

Anwarul K. Chowdhury
Under Secretary General
United Nations
New York, March 1, 2005