Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Poverty Campaigners Take On War Spending

Published on Tuesday, October 18, 2005 by Inter Press Service
by Julia Spurzem

UNITED NATIONS - Despite the fact that poverty can be seen as a violation of basic human rights, 1.1 billion people, or about a fifth of the world's population, scrape by on less than one dollar a day.

And a total of half the world's people live on less than two dollars a day. "Poverty devastates families, communities and nations," said U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan in a message marking the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty on Monday.

This year's theme, "Achieving the Millennium Development Goals: Empowering the Poorest of the Poor", made clear that there is a need for partnerships with the people who are often excluded from the development process.

"Poverty is more than just income poverty. It is also manifested by the lack of access to education, basic health services, clean water and sanitation," said Jomo Kwame Sundaram, U.N. assistant secretary-general for economic development, underlining the importance of implementing the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

The MDGs include a 50 percent reduction in extreme poverty and hunger, universal primary education, reduction of child mortality by two thirds, cutback in maternal mortality by three-quarters, the promotion of gender equality, environmental sustainability, the reversal of the spread of HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases, and a global partnership for development between the rich and the poor.

Jan Eliasson of Sweden, president of the General Assembly, emphasised that the commitments made this year must be implemented and that trade talks scheduled for December in Hong Kong "must deliver an outcome which advances the cause of development".

At a commemoration ceremony at the U.N. Headquarters Monday and events marking the day around the world, many used the opportunity to underline that the poor themselves must be given a greater voice in the process of poverty eradication.

"They are the ones who know their way out. They are the victims," said Constantine Saasita Munema, the delegate for Tanzania of the International Movement ATD Fourth World, a non-governmental organisation (NGO) dedicated to overcoming extreme poverty.

Munema also stressed the link between poverty and human rights. "Whenever men and women are condemned to live in extreme poverty, human rights are violated. It is our duty to come together to ensure that these rights are respected," he said.

The main focus must be now to implement the MDGs and the commitments made at the U.N. World Summit in September, experts said.

To reach this goal, Eugen Brand, director general of ATD Fourth World, called for an end to the "teacher-student" relationship between rich and poor countries. Poor people are found in every country, he said. "When we talk about extreme poverty we are all students and we have to come together."

Monday was also the launch of an international inter-religious campaign called "Global Priorities", whose goal is to join "the voices of people of all religious traditions to challenge current national and international spending priorities". This requires a long-term effort to shift a portion of investment in human security away from military spending and toward reaching the MDGs.

In the view of Global Priorities, this year's U.N. Human Development Report paints a stark and unacceptable picture of a tragic lack of progress by the world's leading economic powers in meeting the MDGs. The campaign urges that funding be refocused on neglected and especially urgent child survival needs.

"We can easily save up to 60 billion dollars in the U.S. military budget without having less security," said Lawrence Korb, former U.S. assistant secretary of defence during the Ronald Reagan administration, highlighting unproductive military spending in the proposed 440-billion-dollar U.S. defence budget currently before Congress.

He added that this amount does not include funding for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Reducing the number of nuclear weapons from 7,000 to 1,000 would also send a signal to the world, Korb said. "We are the ones with the cigarette in the hand telling others not to smoke."

According to Global Priorities, other countries also have excessive military budgets. The group singled out France, which plans to spend more than 10 billion dollars on "unnecessary submarine-launched nuclear missiles, which can be better used to meet human needs".

But French officials said there is more at stake than money when talking about poverty.

"There are three elements: money, partnership and to spend the money correctly. We have to work on the three of them," Jean-Marc de La Sablière, France's permanent representative to the U.N., told IPS. He added that he was nonetheless interested in the work of Global Priorities: "I am always listening to those who know and can tell us how we can spend the money in a better way."

The International Day for the Eradication of Poverty was officially recognised by the United Nations in 1992. The day was first celebrated in 1987 by thousands of participants at the Human Rights Plaza in Paris, France.

Copyright © 2005 IPS-Inter Press Service.

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