Unjust economic systems sustain poverty, churches say

By agency reporter
September 27, 2010

We must change the global economic system in order to eradicate hunger and poverty, said participants from a range of humanitarian, church and advocacy groups who participated in a 22 September forum co-sponsored by Church World Service.

The aim of the conference was to ask what systemic change is needed to empower impoverished people around the world.

Chris Herlinger writes: The forum – one of numerous events held in connection with a United Nations summit to assess progress on the eight Millennium Development Goals to cut extreme poverty in half by 2015 – was a dialogue among experts and advocates, giving them a chance to discern what changes are needed eradicate poverty.

David Weaver, CWS representative to the United Nations, said the question of changing the overall system is needed, given that one global reality – the threat of a new international food crisis – "has re-emerged with new urgency."

David McNair, senior economic justice advisor for the UK-based humanitarian agency and CWS partner Christian Aid, said such urgency is needed given that problems of speculation continue to plague the global economy. "The fact that someone can be making millions or even billions on the price of wheat is totally immoral," he said.

McNair cited a recent Christian Aid study, "Poverty: We're All in This Together" which praised the Millennium Development Goals for having "driven significant and very welcome progress, and raised the profile globally of the international commitment to eradicate poverty." But the study also noted that some of the eight goals are not on track, faulting the goals' focus of seeking to reduce but not fully eradicate some basic symptoms of poverty.

"Poverty is not simply a lack of income, or other material attributes such as housing, food, access to fresh water or consumer goods," the report noted, saying poverty has wider dimensions. Poverty is also, the report said, "a lack of opportunity, a lack of power over one's own life and prospects, a lack of human dignity."

Real progress, the report added, "will be made when the systematic and structural causes of poverty are challenged. Those in poverty must be supported to take power over the constraints they face; those in power must be held accountable."

Put another way, Dr. Manoj Kurian, a programme executive with the Geneva-based World Council of Churches, said: "We can't transform societies unless we have fair systems."

A debate among groups and individuals working to eradicate poverty, is whether it is possible to reform international financial institutions such as the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, or whether much more fundamental transformation is needed. "Do you scrap it or democratise it?" asked the Rev. Christopher Ferguson, representative to the United Nations Commission of the Churches on International Affairs in New York.

While that debate among advocates continues, there is much work to be done and, along the way, glimmers of hope for change.

Sister Annmarie Braudis, Maryknoll NGO representative at the United Nations, and co-chair of the Committee on Sustainable Development, said no one could have foreseen the victory at the UN earlier this year when a resolution introduced by Bolivia recognising the human right to access to water and sanitation was easily approved by the General Assembly.

"We have a new framing of things which is positive," she said. "There are evolutionary bumps, things that can positively change, and we need to prepare for those."

In addition to CWS, other groups co-sponsoring the forum were CARITAS Internationalis; Chaplain's Office of the Church Centre for the United Nations; Christian Aid; Congregation of the Mission, United Nations Liaison Office; Global Policy Forum; Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy; Mennonite Central Committee United Nations Liaison Office; the World Council of Churches; and other members of the NGO Working Group on Food and Hunger at the UN.

The forum was held at Holy Family Catholic Church in Manhattan, near the United Nations.


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