Eradicating poverty 'like eating ice cream' churches told
The amount of money spent every year on ice-cream in the United States alone would make it possible, if it were added to what is now being done, to achieve the goal of access to primary education for all children.
This was how Chief Secretary to the Treasury, and well-known Christian, Paul Boateng illustrated the point that Millennium Development Goals (MDG) could be reached if rich countries really wanted to reach them.
Echoing sentiments expressed by U2 frontman Bono, in his recent speech to the Labour party conference, Boateng said; "We do not lack the awareness, we do not lack the science, we do not lack the resources. We have the technology, the medicine, the expertise - and the costs are not prohibitive. What the developed word lacks is the will to make reality of our Millennium promise."
Boateng was speaking to participants at a half-day seminar on "The challenge of poverty eradication" held at the World Council of Churches (WCC) on 18 October, 2004.
In an earlier presentation centred on the case of Africa, WCC general secretary Samuel Kobia agreed with Boateng's point of view. "Africa does not need any more poverty analyses, but rather justice and the honouring of commitments," he said, referring to governments' "promises for the MDG set four years ago".
Kobia pointed out that since the adoption of MDGs, "very little has been achieved in alleviating the plight of more than three billion poor people in the world who live on less than two dollars a day," and that poverty-related casualties "would outnumber deaths caused by the weapons of mass destruction (WMD) in the same period".
"If destruction of life were the yardstick, then that challenges the powerful and rich nations to take poverty with even more seriousness than they take the WMD," Kobia reasoned.
Poverty, he continued, "can only be eradicated if inequality in sharing of the global resources is addressed".
"It is now evident that economic growth alone does not eradicate poverty, particularly when such growth is based on a model of development that enhances inequity within and between nations," and when "unregulated financial markets transfer financial resources from poor countries to rich ones".
In Africa in particular, eradication of poverty would take "external support and solidarity (Ö) to accompany African initiatives such as the New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD)," and measures like "intensification of debt cancellation," "introduction of an international currency transaction tax," "to prevent capital flight to offshore tax havens," and "reforming financial and trade institutions to make them more transparent," among others, Kobia said.
How can the developed world fulfil its responsibility regarding the MDG, which according to Boateng are not only a practical but also a moral imperative? Speaking on behalf of the UK government, he stated that the richest countries must "write off more debt," "dismantle our damaging trade barriers," and "commit more money towards international aid and development," among other steps.
To address the last challenge - "to urgently increase the overall level of resources going from rich to poor" by about "an additional billion a year in aid" - the UK government proposes to create an International Finance Facility. This would raise money from the international capital markets by issuing bonds based on legally-binding long-term donor commitments, distribute those additional resources to the poorest countries, and repay bondholders by using future donor payment streams.
According to Boateng, the initiative has been already supported by the Holy See of the Roman Catholic Church, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, and would represent a "faster", "stable and predictable financing vehicle" for making available the resources needed for education, health, economic development, debt relief and trade.
Recognizing the distinct but significant role of faith-based communities in development and conflict resolution, the UK government chief secretary to the Treasury invited the WCC to support this proposal as well as to strengthen its mobilization of churches in support of the MDG. In response, the WCC general secretary agreed to take the proposal to future meetings of WCC governing bodies for discussion.
Having noted in his earlier intervention that "both conceptually and pragmatically, there are many points of convergence that offer a strong basis for the cooperation" between churches on the one hand and the UK's Commission for Africa and the proposal of an International Finance Facility on the other, Kobia stressed his hope that this initiative "will go beyond promises to real action".
The role of faith-based as well as civil society organizations was also highlighted in her intervention by WCC president from Africa, Agnes Aboum. "The efforts of the poor and faith-based organizations who have worked on poverty for a very long time must be included in the MDG agenda for it to be successful," she stated. She also underlined that those organizations should play a "critical role" of "consistent and systematic monitoring and evaluation of the MDG achievements".
The seminar was attended by representatives of the permanent missions of Nigeria, Ethiopia, Tanzania, Uganda, Lesotho, Rwanda, Botswana, Cameroon, and the African Union, as well as the World Bank, the UN Millennium Campaign, the International Labour Organization, the Lutheran World Federation, the All Africa Conference of Churches, the Anglican Communion and the Church of North India.