Volume 19 Number 1
Can We Make Poverty History?
01 February 2006

We will not win the war on terrorism unless we do something to win the war on poverty. It is in our enlightened self-interest to enhance trade, to build a safer world, to decrease the displacement that people feel.

WE LIVE IN an unjust world. Every three seconds a child dies of poverty: that's 19,000 a day. In Zambia a child born in 2005 is less likely to reach the age 40 than a child born in Britain in 1840. Meanwhile, three people in the world own more wealth between them than all the people of sub-Saharan Africa.

Poverty kills and dehumanises. It is often seen in terms of numbers. But poverty is about human beings with names and faces and stories and feelings; people who want a better life and future for their children.

In South Africa I came across a woman called Grace. She was looking after eight children, all of them orphaned by HIV/Aids. She told me, 'These two children are my grandchildren, that one is my brother's grandchild and that one, I don't know, but I am looking after them.' The generosity of the poor is something that always amazes me.

People power
At the present rate of progress it will take 100 years to achieve the goals which the Millennium Summit of 2000 set for 2015. Nothing will happen unless people in the rich countries hold their governments more accountable.

We will not win the war on terrorism unless we do something to win the war on poverty. It is in our enlightened self-interest to enhance trade, to build a safer world, to decrease the displacement that people feel.

Ordinary people have power, as demonstrated by the Jubilee 2000 campaign for debt cancellation, which persuaded the world's governments to commit to $100 billion of debt relief. That's the equivalent of 1,000 years of Christian Aid fund-raising. Less than half of this relief has actually been delivered, but even that is making a huge difference. Four million Ugandan children are going to school for the first time as a result, and ten million in Mozambique are getting fully immunised.

Trade and aid
Last year 500 organisations came together in the Make Poverty History Coalition. They called for three things.

First, trade justice, rather than free trade. The protectionist policies of Europe and North America stop poor countries coming into our markets. We subsidise our farmers and exports and dump our surpluses on countries like Senegal and Ghana, causing the prices paid to local farmers to collapse. Unfair trade rules deny poor countries nearly $700 billion of income every year. They tell us, 'Trade not aid will get us out of poverty.'

Third World countries should have the right to make their own rules about what economic and trade policies are appropriate for them. Recent studies have shown that countries who are forced to liberalise too fast do not benefit.

Second, there are still countries, such as Zambia, which are paying far too much on debt repayment. As a result of HIV/Aids, Zambia's infrastructure is collapsing, life expectancy is going down, schools are closing for lack of teachers. We must give such countries a chance to build up their society.
The final plank of the Make Poverty History campaign was more and better aid. Thirty years after most rich countries promised to devote 0.7 per cent of their gross national income to aid, only five countries have reached this target. The UK government has committed to achieving it by 2013.

No one wants to be dependent on aid. It is not healthy. But aid gives people the chance to get off the ground, in terms of social investment, health care, infrastructure. People want to be able to stand on their own feet.

Of course, this is a partnership: the countries of the South must play their part too. They need to establish good governance-where leaders are properly elected, properly accountable and properly transparent about how money is used. They must implement policies that are in the interests of the poor, excluded and marginalised-no one wants to help a country if the money will be used to buy arms and for civil strife. And finally corruption and the siphoning off of aid must be combated.

Development does not happen overnight. For instance, if we are going to help the countries in the Horn of Africa out of chronic poverty and drought, we will have to stand by them not just for one season, but for many.

It depends on us
My professor of development economics told me, 'Development can never be slow enough.' I was young and I wanted to change the world not tomorrow, but today. He said, 'If you push development too fast, the powerful take advantage. Go at the pace of the vulnerable.' Having worked in development for more than 30 years I think there's a lot of wisdom in that.

The challenge is not what we can do for others, but what they can do for themselves. There is a Chinese proverb which says, 'Go to the people, live with them, love them, unlearn what you know, start with what they know. And of the greatest leaders, when their task is done, the people will say, "We've done it ourselves." '

Can we make poverty history? Yes. Will we make poverty history? It depends-on you and me, on people who are willing to speak out.

Daleep Mukarji is Director of Christian Aid, a British development charity. This article is based on his recent talk to a Greencoat Forum at the IofC centre in London.