Ending Poverty: Moving Beyond More Aid and Fair Trade

As the United Nations seeks increased financial assistance from
donor countries to help meet the flagging Millennium Development Goals (MDGs),
the inadequacy of international aid and fairer trade agreements has never been
so clear. In 2007 alone, aid to developing countries fell
by 8.4%
, leaving huge challenges ahead to meet the Gleneagles G-8 target of
doubling aid to Africa by 2010.

As the United Nations seeks increased financial assistance from
donor countries to help meet the flagging Millennium Development Goals (MDGs),
the inadequacy of international aid and fairer trade agreements has never been
so clear. In 2007 alone, aid to developing countries fell
by 8.4%
, leaving huge challenges ahead to meet the Gleneagles G-8 target of
doubling aid to Africa by 2010. In July, the Doha round of trade talks
collapsed again for the third time as developing countries refused to bow down
to US pressure allowing increased access to their
markets. These factors, alongside the rise in hunger as a result of the food
crisis and the worsening global
financial crisis
, underline the low global priority given by rich nations
to the world's poor.

Pledges and promises of aid to eradicate
poverty made by rich nations over the past four decades have resulted in few
changes for the Global South. If genuinely concerned with poverty reduction,
all OECD member states would have long ago reached the 0.7% target for aid,
pledged via the United Nations in 1970. Thirty-eight years later, not a single G8 country
has met this target
. Any reasons or excuses are rendered largely
irrelevant when considering that it took a matter of days for Western
governments to find an estimated three trillion dollars to bailout banks caught
in the financial crisis. The Jubilee Debt Campaign estimates that less than a
quarter of this amount
is needed to wipe the debts of the poorest 100
countries -- simply to allow them to meet their people's most basic needs.

At a time when the rise in food prices
has caused an additional
105 million people
to join the ranks of the hungry, the impact of the
economic crisis is likely to see the needs of the developing countries further
sidelined as Western governments rush to divert money to contain the problem.

Systemic Failures

As these crises worsen, the global
trading system continues to do more harm than good. Import surges of heavily
subsidised goods flood the markets of poor countries, wreaking havoc on
domestic producers and driving many out of business and into poverty. Additionally, rich
nations consistently force developing countries to lower their tariffs while
refusing to do so themselves, thereby denying poor farmers the right to protect
their livelihoods. The situation is further exacerbated when considering that two-thirds
of developing countries are now net food importers
. The WTO and the
international trading system that it promotes has served to strengthen the
status quo, keeping those at the top of the ladder in place while kicking away
the ladder from those at the bottom.

Even if the targets for aid and trade were met in
the near future, the underlying problems of how trade and aid are administered
would continue. Aid would still leave developing countries in a state of
dependence upon rich nations and continue to come with conditions attached
forcing them to open up their markets to foreign goods and services.
Furthermore, aid used by poor countries to pay their external debts would
detract them from providing the most basic needs for their citizens. On a
broader level, the unaccountable
and undemocratic ways in which the World Bank, the IMF and the WTO function
would not be addressed, much less resolved, while the enormous influence of
corporate lobbying groups would persist.

Calling for better trade rules and more
aid to reduce poverty and growing inequality is not enough to achieve real
change. The neoliberal ideologies of economic growth are enshrined in the very
institutions that are designed to help developing countries prosper. A belief
in the free market, deregulation, privatisation and corporate globalisation is the basis upon
which these institutions operate. We have seen in recent weeks how
unsustainable the current economic system is and how liable it is of causing a
financial tsunami upon the lives of people everywhere.

The biggest financial crisis since the
1930s is not taking place in a vacuum -- its roots are based in the neoliberal
ideologies stemming from the Washington Consensus dating back to the 1980s.
Only a few weeks ago, it seemed we had reached a stage where the conceptual
apparatus of neoliberalism had become "so
embedded in common sense as to be taken for granted and not open to question
Since then, the world's most profitable banks have been
part-nationalised, a worldwide recession is looming and a global crisis in
confidence in the current economic model has become the norm.

Recent events have demonstrated that to
continue working within the confines of the global economic framework may
result in slight changes for a small proportion of the world's poor, but
will not be significant enough to achieve targets such as the UN's
Millennium Development Goal of halving hunger by 2015. This goal, which is
already insufficient, was made further unattainable since the World Bank
revised the international poverty line from $1.08 to $1.25 per day, effectively
plunging a further
430 million people into extreme poverty

Securing Basic Human Needs

The current economic system, based on
ever-increasing economic growth as the overarching solution to fighting
poverty, is both ineffective and unsustainable.
The key to tackling poverty and inequality must come from a change in
principles and priorities from which practical steps can be taken to put
long-term structures in place. One such solution would be to define and redistribute
essential resources in order to immediately secure basic human needs. The
universal right to a life of dignity and survival has long been enshrined in
article 25 of the 1948 UN
Declaration of Human Rights
which states that "everyone has the right
to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and
of his family, including food, clothing, housing, medical care and necessary
social services."

There is no reason why 967
million people should go to bed hungry every day
. The problem is not
defined by a scarcity of food, but by the insufficient access to resources for
millions of the world's poor who lack the necessary purchasing power to
survive. The 'trickle-down theory' of economic growth, or the
political promise that wealth accumulated by the rich would eventually permeate
down through society, has proven to be grossly insufficient in dealing with the
urgent demand for basic and essential needs.

To immediately reduce inequality and end
extreme poverty, a new international mechanism
is required which can facilitate a greater economic sharing of essential
resources. The most critical of these are land, basic agricultural
produce, water, energy and essential medicines, which together need to be
defined, withdrawn and protected from international markets and no longer traded
by multinational corporations. A similar
was supported by over 100 civil society organisations at the
recent WTO talks. Bolivia, Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua presented a proposal
to remove healthcare, education, water, telecommunications and energy from the
WTO "on the basis that these essential public services are human rights
which governments have an obligation to provide, and should not be treated as
tradable commodities."

Although the UN is in need of
considerable reform, it should play a lead role in redistributing essential
resources. It is the only international body with the experience, expertise and
financial resources to initiate and coordinate such a crucial program. A new
body within the UN needs to be responsible for a short-term emergency relief
program to address the urgent needs of the 50,000 people who die each
day from poverty, of which 30,000 are children. Simultaneously, a
long-term program
could begin to coordinate securing the wider basic needs
of the global public.

A genuine change in principles and a renewed sense of
commitment is urgently needed to tackle extreme poverty and inequality.
A global undertaking of this scale would not come without further challenges
and complexities, but it would lead to rapid and progressive change as
low-income countries lift themselves out of poverty without permanently relying
on financial hand-outs. Campaigning for the redistribution of essential
resources, rather than just more aid or fairer trade, is the first vital step
to securing the basic needs of the world community.

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