In its maiden 1990 Human Development Report, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) defined human development “as a process of enlarging people’s choices.” The most critical of these wide-ranging choices, the report goes on to say, “are to live a long and healthy life, to be educated and to have access to resources for a decent standard of living.” In the same year, the World Bank’s World Development Report defined poverty in broad terms, to include “literacy, nutrition, and health, as well as income.” The report went on to state: “the evidence suggests that rapid and politically sustainable progress on poverty has been achieved by pursuing a strategy with two equally important elements. The first is to promote the efficient use of the poor's most abundant asset, labor.
It calls for policies that harness market incentives, social and political institutions, infrastructure and technology. The second element is the provision of basic social services to the poor (e.g. primary health care, family planning, nutrition, and primary education).”
In 2000, The United Nations committed itself to the Millennium Development Goals on poverty, hunger, universal education, health, environmental sustainability and global partnerships. In short, humankind already knows what it takes to enlarge people’s choices, and enable them to live long, healthy and productive lives: primary health care, education, nutrition, social and political institutions, markets, infrastructure, and technology, among others. As a testimony to this knowledge in practice, hundreds of millions have been brought out of poverty in China, India, and other parts of the world in the last two decades alone. Second, the world has mobilized immense resources, trillions of US dollars in the last five decades to respond to disease and poverty in developing countries. Previously a province of multilateral and bilateral organizations, now aid is being dispensed by philanthropic organizations, businesses, and compassionate citizens, at levels that are unmatched in human history.
If humankind has the knowledge and the means to prevent disease and end poverty, what is holding us back? Undeniably, a lot of good has been done. Often, aid leads to missed opportunities and, sometimes, causes harm as well as other unintended consequences. Aid continues to bypass women, children, and communities that deserve it. So far, deliberately or unintended, aid begets aid. Aid has to be a tool of ending aid by supporting the process of creating viable and self-sustaining communities.