World leaders should put poverty elimination first, says churches' chief

By agency reporter
21 Jun 2010

The World Council of Churches has called on world leaders to put impoverished people first, instead of making priorities of big banks and military expenditure.

In a statement released ahead of the United Nations summit on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) to take place in September 2010, the WCC has reiterated its conviction that eradicating poverty is both "a moral and ethical imperative" and an achievable goal.

"We believe that mobilising the financial resources needed for poverty eradication and the achievement of the MDGs […] is a matter of political will, yes, and also of moral courage," says a WCC statement presented by a small ecumenical delegation at the UN general assembly hearings on the MDGs held in New York on 14-15 June 2010.

The WCC statement contrasts the resources needed to achieve the MDGs with the "trillions of dollars" that "in a matter of months" were put together by governments in rich countries "to resuscitate ailing financial institutions" and ever-increasing "global military spending".

"We need to re-examine and dismantle such a perverse system of priorities that places more importance on rescuing big banks and acquiring machines that kill people than on emancipating people from starvation and homelessness," the statement says.

The eight UN Millennium Development Goals range from halving extreme poverty to halting the spread of HIV and AIDS and providing universal primary education – all by the target date of 2015. They were adopted by a summit of world leaders in September 2000. With only five years left until the 2015 deadline, another summit – meant "to accelerate progress" – will take place in New York in September 2010.

The 14-15 June hearings aimed at gathering civil society's input to the preparatory process for the September summit. The WCC was one of the representatives of civil society to testify at the two-day event. Athena Peralta, a consultant with the WCC for socio-economic and ecological issues read a summary of the statement on 15 June.

For the WCC, what the world faces is not "a dearth of financial resources to overcome poverty", but "a dearth of life-affirming values and morals – a dearth of justice, solidarity and care".

In order to lift "societies and people out of poverty" a "much more equitable distribution of assets (capital, technology, land, education and health care, among others)" is needed, the WCC statement says.

Therefore the WCC calls on governments and international institutions to work out economic policies that "move away from the current paradigm that is focused on unlimited growth and based on structural greed towards models founded on pro-poor, redistributive growth".

The WCC statement includes a series of recommendations about "what the international community can and must do in [the] 1660 days" that remain before the 2015 deadline is met.

The WCC delegation to the UN hearings included Athena Peralta, Thembela Njenga, director of the Ecumenical Service for Socio-Economic Transformation in Johannesburg, South Africa, and the Rev. Christopher Ferguson, WCC representative to the UN in New York.

The WCC delegation, along with the WCC UN liaison office, participated at a march that took place immediately before the hearings, demanding “End Poverty Now”.

The WCC has general consultative status with the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) through its Commission of Churches on International Affairs.

UN Millennium Development Goals website: http://www.un.org/millenniumgoals/

World Council of Churches: http://www.oikoumene.org/

[Ekk/3]

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