Let's Make Poverty History
01 April 2005

Two great windows of opportunity will swing open this year in the fight against world poverty, surely one of the most pressing moral issues of our age. Poverty kills 6,000 children each week—the equivalent of a tsunami a month.

In July, leaders of the G8 group of rich nations meet in Gleneagles, Scotland, under Britain’s chairmanship. The Chancellor of the Exchequer, Gordon Brown, has been leading the charge on debt remission for the world’s poorest countries.

Then in September world leaders will gather at the United Nations in New York to assess progress towards the UN’s Millennium Goals. These aim to halve the numbers living in absolute poverty by 2015, an ambitious target unlikely to be fulfilled unless decisive action is taken.

Earlier this year, the rock star and Live Aid campaigner Bob Geldorf introduced Nelson Mandela—whom he described in a moment of hyperbole as ‘the president of the world’—to a crowd of 22,000 in London’s Trafalgar Square. They were campaigning to ‘make poverty history’.

‘While poverty persists, there is no true freedom,’ the former South African President asserted. ‘Overcoming poverty is not a gesture of charity. It is an act of justice. It is the protection of a fundamental human right; the right to dignity and a decent life.’

Calling on the crowd to make history in 2005, by making poverty history, he said, ‘Sometimes it falls upon a generation to be great. You can be that great generation.’

The priorities of the Make Poverty History campaign (www.makepovertyhistory.org) are debt remission, fair trade and an increase of aid from donor nations to 0.7 per cent of their GNP. In his speech, Geldorf put right an omission from this list by referring to corruption, which bleeds the poor of vital investment and resources.

The great faith traditions regard compassion for and solidarity with the poor as a religious imperative. For all of us, our attitude to the deprivation of every fifth person on Earth is an expression of our common humanity. Not to seize this opportunity would be, in Mandela’s words, ‘a crime against humanity’.
Mike Smith

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