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For Sachs, U.S. 9/11 response undercut war on poverty

By Lesley Wroughton

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - World-renowned development economist Jeffrey Sachs has made it his mission to improve the lives of the world's poor, a job he believes has been made harder by the U.S. response to the September 11, 2001, attacks.

In his view, the U.S. reaction to the September 11 attacks was to militarize development by moving resources to a Pentagon-led global war on terrorism and away from helping poor countries.

"What 9/11 did was distract the United States significantly, causing it to put focus on things that were not in America's long-term interest," Sachs said in an interview. "This very militarized approach ... cost trillions of dollars and, I believe, weakened the United States."

Countries such as Somalia and Yemen were evaluated on the basis of U.S. security interests instead of their development needs, he said, ignoring the fact that "poverty and hunger made them highly vulnerable to all kinds of abuses, including being havens for terrorist activity."

Sachs said he learned of the September 11 attacks while on a video conference with South Africa from his Harvard University office. He said it took him three days to realize what it meant. "I got the sense that the U.S. was going to embark on a very costly, very misguided, very expensive military response," Sachs said.

Sachs said the United States now plays "a very small role" in working to achieve the U.N. Millennium Development Goals that aim to halve global poverty, hunger and disease by 2015.

These international objectives are considered central to the fight against poverty in poor countries.

He said most of the world's poorest nations will exceed or come close to meeting the goals. But, he said, because of the diversion of resources after the September 11 attacks, "progress has not been as fast as it should and could have been."

Sachs said the attacks motivated him to sharpen his focus on efforts to help the poor. He moved from Harvard to New York, where he is director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University, to be nearer the United Nations, where he is a leading advocate of the Millennium Development Goals.

(Editing by Mark Egan and Will Dunham)

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