News Archive

posted 11/01/04

Earth Institute’s Earth Clinic Opens for Business

The kitchen of a school in Sauri, Kenya. The smoke from burning biomass fuel is one of the many health hazards in this village. Vijay Modi,a scientist at the Earth Engineering Center, a part of the Earth Institute, is working to find ways to provide cleaner energy without increasing costs. Photo by Vijay Modi

The Earth Institute’s Earth Clinic provides prescriptions to developing countries to relieve immediate economic and environmental problems and put them on a path of sustainable development. Much of the Earth Clinic’s work stems from current Earth Institute research projects that have developed interventions ready for application in the field. Additionally, the Earth Clinic will address the many requests the Earth Institute receives each month from presidents, prime ministers, and ministers of finance, environment, health, agriculture, among others, for science-based assistance to extremely urgent issues of economic development, public health, energy systems, water management, agriculture and infrastructure. visit Earth Clinic webpage

“Our initial projects focus on drilling deep wells that are free of arsenic in Bangladesh, a new approach to ending poverty globally, the Millennium Villages project, helping Ethiopia expand its primary health care facilities, and advising São Tomé and Príncipe on new laws, institutions, and economic development strategies to manage its new oil revenues,” said Professor Jeffrey D. Sachs, Director of the Earth Institute and Quetelet Professor of Sustainable Development.

“The Earth Clinic’s work is distinct from traditional consulting in that the Earth Clinic brings a solid academic knowledge base to real-world problem solving,” said Professor Peter Schlosser, Vinton Professor of Earth and Environmental Engineering and Earth and Environmental Sciences and Associate Director of the Earth Institute. “The Earth Clinic also works closely with local partners on design and implementation of projects to ensure their long-term effectiveness.”

Over the last several years, an Earth Institute research team and its Bangladeshi partners dramatically reduced the exposure to arsenic of about 70,000 people by testing their wells for arsenic, providing health education, encouraging them to share existing safe wells and by installing deep, safe community wells in fifty villages. Using Earth Clinic funds, the research team will implement a more efficient method of targeting safe aquifers by using cell phones coupled to GPS receivers to download relevant information from a large available data set and to continuously update this data set with new field observations. Through this project, the research team hopes to contribute to a national strategy that addresses the arsenic crisis throughout Bangladesh.

Kenya—Millennium Villages Project
The Millennium Villages Project is a new global approach to lift developing country villages out of the poverty trap that afflicts more than a billion people worldwide. The first Millennium Village, Sauri, located in western Kenya near Lake Victoria, has 4,648 people with a strong community system, but lacks the revenue for the basic services necessary to sustain economic growth. Working with village leaders and the community, the Earth Institute team with expertise in agriculture, nutrition and health, economics, energy, water, environment and information technology will use science-based, proven, reliable, and appropriate technologies and interventions to help Sauri to achieve the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and get out of extreme poverty in the next ten years at a cost to the rich world of less than about $50/person. The MDGs of reducing extreme poverty, hunger, disease, and lack of access to safe water and sanitation are the focus of the United Nations Millennium Project, which was launched by the United Nations Secretary-General to develop an implementation plan to achieve the MDGs by 2015 and is directed by Professor Sachs.

A key component of the Millennium Village project is a concept, developed by Professor Vijay Modi, for a village vehicle for transporting villagers to hospitals for emergency medical treatment, gaining easier access to markets, and providing electricity through rechargeable lanterns. The Earth Institute will launch the Millennium Villages project in March 2005 and over the next five years, expects to expand the number of villages in Africa as well as adding villages in other parts of the developing world.

Earth Clinic funds have also assisted Professor Awash Teklehaimanot, health expert at the Earth Institute, to support the work of the newly formed Center for National Health Development in Ethiopia — created to help Ethiopia’s Ministry of Health achieve its ambitious plan of expanding primary health care facilities and services in Ethiopia with a particular focus on malaria and HIV/AIDS, data management, and program evaluation. The government of Ethiopia plans to train up to 25,000 health works over the next five years and build or upgrade close to 3,000 health care centers and up to 14,000 primary health posts. The Earth Clinic support enables Professor Teklehaimanot to conduct a demographic health survey of rural communities that will be needed by newly trained health workers and to develop implementation plans for the health extension program.

São Tomé and Príncipe
Since mid-2003, a team led by Professor Sachs has advised the government of São Tomé and Príncipe on how to best manage and invest its new oil revenues to avoid the “resource curse” that afflicts many oil exporters struggling with corruption and social conflict from their newfound wealth. This includes drafting of new laws to ensure transparency of deposited oil revenues and their investment into sustainable economic development measures. For example, São Tomé and Príncipe's new laws institute a system of checks and balances designed to limit conflict and prevent corruption before it occurs and make all information about the country's oil revenues easily available to the public. The Earth Institute team will continue to work with the government on how to invest the revenues for sustained economic growth focusing on health, education, infrastructure, electrification, telecommunications and fisheries and to eliminate poverty on the islands.

It will take about three years to complete phase one of the Earth Clinic, during which Earth Clinic faculty and researchers will refine the interventions required to address these pressing global challenges and to develop prototypes that can be applied, with modifications, worldwide. The Earth Institute has received a generous $1 M gift to begin phase one in addition to the $5 M grant from the Lenfest Foundation for the Millennium Villages Project.

In phase two, planned to begin in 2008, the Earth Clinic will expand its client base of developing countries and expand from treatment of symptoms to developing methods of prevention of these severe economic and environmental problems.

Professor Sachs provides overall strategic guidance and advice on economic development to the Earth Clinic with Professor Schlosser chairing the Earth Clinic’s steering committee composed of the leaders of its projects and serving as overall director of the Earth Clinic’s projects and activities. The steering committee includes senior faculty and scientists with expertise in environmental engineering, agriculture and agro-ecology, energy, infrastructure in low-income countries, global public health, and climate and society interactions. In addition, Earth Institute fellows, Ph.D. students, masters-level students and undergraduates in affiliated departments participate in Earth Clinic projects.

The Earth Institute at Columbia University is the world’s leading academic center for the integrated study of Earth, its environment and society. The Earth Institute builds upon excellence in the core disciplines—earth sciences, biological sciences, engineering sciences, social sciences and health sciences—and stresses cross-disciplinary approaches to complex problems. Through research, training and global partnerships, it mobilizes science and technology to advance sustainable development, while placing special emphasis on the needs of the world’s poor.