Why we don't want to eradicate poverty

In perspective
Last Updated 11 October 2010, 16:46 IST

The dismal picture of the world is one of hunger, disease, and pollution. Climate change leading to floods, droughts and famines. Food-, financial-, economic- and energy crises. Increased communal conflict, violence against women. Child labour and other forms of modern slavery, and trafficking. A majority of the labour force in developing countries imprisoned in informal and unprotected work. Increased crime and corruption. Human rights atrocities and daily injustices of many other types.

The cheerful picture of the world is that we actually do know how to solve these problems. We know that investment in education, health, local agriculture and local trade will release a huge amount of potential and local wealth. We know that particularly women, when given half a chance, will work hard for the future of their children: creating economic and social progress and stability. Increased economic activity in an inclusive green economy is possible.

Yet we are not doing these things, we are not achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). We have enough food, but one in six people in the world suffer hunger due to inequitable distribution and speculation. Half a million women die each year of preventable pregnancy-related causes. With education girls can negotiate and control their lives better: and choose to have fewer and healthier children. So, where is ‘Education for All’?

Tremendous loss
Domestic and communal violence against women is both an indicator of a culture of impunity and a cause of tremendous loss of women’s active participation in economic and political processes. Why don’t we change this?

It doesn’t matter anymore from which angle we want to approach the poverty problem: it is about justice, gender, climate change, economic development, peace and security.
Bringing the potential of people living in poverty into rule-based inclusive green economies and societies benefits us all. Not doing so will lead to increased global conflict and climate degradation. Then we all become losers.

So why don’t our leaders keep their promises? Because they don’t care? Because the poorest are mostly women? Because they do not see ‘the others’ as full humans or as full citizens?

Perhaps that is part of the story. More important are the short-term political and economic vested interests profiting from the status quo:

* Shareholders of companies who profit from child labour and want quick capital gains;
* Traders who do not want to check under what conditions their products are made;
* Arms manufacturers and private security forces who have a vested interest in conflict;
* and multinationals who do not have to pay for the environmental destruction they cause.

Should we begin to speak of ‘corporate politicians and diplomats’ as well as corporate media? With money playing an increasing role in election campaigns this is a logical conclusion. Some politicians increase their short-term power base by pitching peoples and religions against each other.

The best proofs of these connections are the huge bailout packages which saved the banks and companies that caused the financial crisis recently. This is the biggest financial magic trick of the last few years, public tax money spent to save the private sector and their shareholders.

What are ‘We the People’ going to do about it? We the people, we the citizens of the world, can increase our influence through our own direct behaviour as consumers and as citizens. Individually and by organising ourselves, within as well as across countries and issues.

The UN began 65 years ago and its 192 countries underwrite the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The UN’s credibility is now at stake because they do not live by their stated values, nor keep the promises of the Millennium Declaration.

We the people can and must make our leaders as well as our fellow citizens and local as well as international businesses truly accountable. We can invoke the ‘do no harm’ principle in matters of environment and security (eg: Shell in the Delta, Nigeria). We can increase our ‘publish what you pay’ vigilance in trade deals (eg: EU and Free Trade Agreements with African countries). We can do national gender budget tracking (spending on arms compared to spending on education and health). We can invoke Security Council Resolution 1325 to get women into peace process (eg: West Asia).

We can and will increase our local-to-global citizens’ movement, working in partnership with responsible business and political leaders in order to transform our economic and social landscape from ‘winner takes all’ to ‘justice for all’. One hungry mouth in the world shames us all.


(Published 11 October 2010, 16:46 IST)

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