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Saturday, 16 February, 2002, 10:34 GMT
Should we be doing more to eradicate poverty?
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Rich nations aren't doing enough to spread prosperity, according to UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan.
Speaking to business leaders at the World Economic Forum, he said that poverty is a threat to global security which needs to be addressed by global corporations and governments alike.
But Nestlé's chief executive argued that businesses should stick to what they do best - which is creating jobs and making money.
Mr Annan also urged governments to double their foreign aid to 100 billion dollars so that the world's poorest could improve their lives.
His comments may be a veiled criticism of President Bush, who last week requested a forty-eight billion dollar increase in the US defence budget.
Do you think we are doing enough to help the world's poor? Should western countries write off the debt owed to them by the world's poorest countries? Should foreign aid donations be increased? What role should big business play?
We discussed the role of the West in alleviating poverty in Talking Point ON AIR, the phone-in programme of the BBC World Service and BBC News Online. We were joined by the UK Minister for International Development, Hilary Benn MP.
This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.
David Norris, Scotland
Money is power in this world and to lift the poorer countries out of their poverty means sharing power with them. Only when the desire for power is removed from the hearts of man will poorer countries be allowed an equal opportunity in this world. It is that simple.
Much as the West is pumping in a lot of funds to Africa, there is a need that we Africans should not just sit down and wait for donations. We must understand the principle of giving and receiving. The more you give the more you get. It is not necessarily the donations that will change Africa but a change in our attitude. We must realise the resources that are around us and use them effectively. We need leaders who can instil a hard working spirit in us and not a begging spirit. It is only through hard working that poverty in Africa shall be defeated.
The main reason for poverty is that people are not able to obtain work in order to feed their families. There are people who need proper guidance and assistance to establish themselves. Population control, organized community work and adequate funding by community itself and rich nations can reduce the hardship of the poor people.
Twenty per cent of the world's population consumes 80% of the world's resources. This is a situation that simply cannot endure; the first and most important reason being that it is morally and ethically wrong. A second reason being that since the world is getting smaller and smaller all those people living in poverty are learning how life is for the small group of people who are well-off. And we cannot blame them for wanting to have their share of all this wealth.
The West has thrown and wasted money for decades on the so-called developing world, only to be despised and hated by them. Every night in the UK and the US, children go hungry and adults worry about their financial future. It is indeed every man for himself. It is no longer acceptable to the majority of people to see their money wasted on corrupt, unstable and inferior countries who would give nothing back to the world.
Sorry its a hard line to take but that's just the way this taxpayer feels!
Poverty isn't the problem; corruption and overall laziness of people in power is. Really, the only times poor countries seem to run into problems is when their leaders enact cruel and oppressive policies in order to bully the population to bend to their whim. All the money in the world won't solve this problem, teaching respect and tolerance for your fellow man is the only way to overcome our differences, we are all one man, we all bleed red, when are we going to act like it?
There have been several great suggestions
for wiping out poverty in the under developed
countries. Most though stem from the idea
that wealthy nations should accept monetary
responsibility for the poor nations and assist
by sending money and other resources.
Instead of just sending money, let's send
knowledge. Help the country redistribute
the wealth of their own nation. If their
governments and class elites have all the
wealth and control of the countries resources,
then begin first by using what the country already
has. Then, and only then, should the other
nations begin adding additional resources
(money, food, etc.). The problem hasn't gone
away by sending money. Money can help but
it's not the complete answer.
Many of the contributors to this talking point to over population, lack of women's rights/contraception as potential causes. I would point out that Australia and the USA, would today be poor countries had it not been for the invasion of Europeans and the partial genocide of the indigenous population.
The population of the world is divided between the rich and powerful and the poor and weak. The rich enjoy that position and will keep it that way.
The most rich and powerful country, the USA, has already made it clear that it will not sign up to anything that might damage its own economic position even in the face of western pressure (e.g. limiting greenhouse gases). We in the rich world will do just enough to ensure that they provide us with what we want - cheap labour, a market for goods by which we will enslave them... We will also find (mostly) non-violent means to take anything we value from those who currently own it.
Lack of democracy, corruption and decay are also related to poverty. Bad leaders have been taking advantage of this poverty to create political support and even personal armies that perpetuate their stay in power for decades.
The West can help by completely writing off the debt owed by African countries and bringing in a lots of investiments.
The recent move by USA which gives the Africans access to American market is a good opportunity but poverty again is an obstacle.
It is also useful to set conditions. African countries should also show their seriousness by fighting corruption and promoting good governance, otherwise whatever efforts by the West to fight poverty may yield no results without serious commitment on the part of the African leaders.
In any capitalist system, exploitation is the norm, part of the very fabric of the world. It is clear that America and Europe are exploiting countries across Africa, Asia, and South America, not intentionally, but because they cannot help it. No matter how much aid is provided, these people will be starving, living a life unimaginable to any comfortable American. Do most Americans know the conditions in which the majority of the world's people live in? I know how people can be forced to live.
In the Dominican Republic, a majority of the rural population lives in horrifically small and run-down shacks, and they grow their measly amount of food in the backyard. The entire family, including all children, works all day to simply provide for the meagre existence. Life should not be like that. The only way to save the world is to stop all technological progress, experience a dramatic change in world population, and revert to an ancient and much more dignified way of living. It will happen eventually, one day or another. Eventually, people will realize that we cannot live this way, that this way of life, this system, has no future. Some day soon, the people will rise up, and we will become great once again.
What can Western societies do without a corporate and political policy rethink? Years of colonialism that interrupted localised development and replaced it with European preferences for society, growth etc; corporate abuse of developing countries (especially with natural resources), marginalisation of countries with little importance to commerce or military strategy and an over-reliance on public aid to address the negative symptoms - it is in the interests of many power brokers that the developing world stays in development, under patronage and influence of the richer countries. Perhaps it would be useful to match a call for funding with a call for global standards of commercial operation (i.e. no sweatshops anywhere instead of charities for their victims) and support for realisation of localised development (versus biased grants/loans for growth). It's not about apologising for past actions or treating the symptoms of current abuses - it's about balance of wealth, knowledge and dare I say, power.
In this kind of discussions I always recall the famous Chinese saying "teach him how to fish instead of giving him fish". Writing off the debt or providing more development assistance (which anyway returns to aid providers through tied aid programmes and high consultancy fees and overheads or goes to a few privileged in the recipient country)is not the answer; to the contrary they serve to prolong the untold poverty and further distort the fragile balance of economic and political interests in these countries.
What is needed is to develop solid partnerships involving the stakeholders in poor countries, donor countries, multilateral organisations, financial institutions and more importantly the business groups. We should never forget that helping these countries break the vicious cycle of poverty and violence is at the end of the day a self-help for us to pursue a better and secure life.
In countries with no social security, it is essential to have enough children to care for you when you are no longer productive. Otherwise you die. Simple as that. In labour intensive economies, the more hands there are to do work, the less poverty there is. All historical and demographic evidence shows that people have less children as they become more wealthy. Remove the poverty and the population problems will ease.
Kofi is right. Unless we begin to respect every human on this planet the future is grim. Selfishness causes us to be blind to real solutions to all the world's problems. We all need to become "selfless"!!
The standard American objection to increasing aid is that America - the 'Land of the Free' - worked for its wealth, why can't everywhere else do the same. The fact is that ther is now less and less wealth to go around because most of it is owned by the West. The idea that Third World countires can compete on the global market with mega rich big business is ludicrous. 'Free' trade is an Orwellian contradiction - it is a freedom only enjoyed by the rich. We must help these people now, not because they can't help themselves, but because we are not allowing them to help themselves.
To Thomas of Cleveland. If capitalism cannot create prosperity for all but a minority, it's only a matter of time before it ends up in the unmarked grave of discredited economic lies. The bigotry of those who would thrust it down the throats of peoples who find its grasping, avaricious, dog eat dog ideology nauseating is breath-taking. The attitude that "we went through it, so now it's your turn" is naïve, pretentious and arrogant. Precisely what is wrong with capitalism is that it produces zealots with myopic perceptions such as these. While money may have once made the world go round, the disparity between the rich and the poor is now accelerating the fortunes of the entire human race into a dangerous tailspin. Third World peoples don't want trillion dollar migraines. They simply want a level playing field - is that so hard to understand? Let's learn that lesson before it's too late.
A few contributors to this discussion blame capitalism for the ills of African economies.Rubbish. If each African country practiced capitalism in its "pure form", they would have been full and equal members of the world's economic community long ago. The racism, genocide, marxist political systems, corruption and squandering of immense natural resources make African states - without exception- little more than criminal enterprises.
This is the wrong question. The question should be: Should the world do more about reducing/eliminatingcorruption? There is already plenty of aid going towards the needy and desperate - the real problem are authorities skimming "their share" from what is intended for people who really need it. Throwing good money after bad will do nothing to solve poverty, maybe even exacerbate it. I give my 10% gross to worthy causes, i.e., L'Institut Pasteur, the Red Cross, but the idea that I should be doing even more is kind of insulting
I am quite appalled at the callous attitude some of us are taking towards this tragic issue. Allow me to quote Mary Robinson: "The worst [human rights] violation is extreme poverty - where there is no human dignity. There is just a terrible quiet suffering. There is no clean water, children are constantly ill and die of preventable diseases. There is no hope, there is no access to education, women having babies can't get safe delivery - it's terrible." But I guess it¿s all their fault isn¿t it? It¿s their fault they were born poor; their fault no one gives a damn; their fault they suffer so that we can live in indescribable comfort and luxury! There has to be a reckoning for such unspeakable injustice. Neither will our most cherished dreams ever be realised as long as the lives of others is a daily nightmare.
Peter Swain, London
If the women in the 3rd world countries are empowered, and able to take control of their reproduction and given a decent education, then we will have gone a long way towards the elimination of poverty.
The US has been throwing money at problems for decades. The corrupt government leadership of other nations has kept the money as a payoff to maintain diplomatic relations with the US. The US needs to follow a policy of isolationism and sit back to let the rest of the world take care of their own problems. Students and scholars have been trained in this country to take their knowledge and use it to benefit their home nations.
Where are they?
Why can't wealthy rulers provide for their own countries?
Sorry, this American is tired of handing over my national inheritance and my personal rewards for my labour.
I suggest that these peoples who are always asking for aid, make some changes for themselves. Even if it means putting their lives on the line. It is what this American would do if I were in their situation.
Mike Thomas, New York, USA
It is a fact that large multi-national companies exploit poorer nations for their own benefit. It is a fact that a large proportion of the poorer countries are poor because either their own governments are corrupt or because they are incompetent. Most of the remaining poor countries are poor because of internal wars and disputes. Western countries are continually writing off debts and ploughing foreign aid into these places. However, very little changes. The people of these countries have to start helping themselves. They have to force their own governments to become more capable. They have to stop their tribal disputes and they have to demand better living standards and education. If western society sees that they are starting to help themselves then they would be more willing to lend a helping hand. I remember a few years back the British people were contributing £3 million per day to Ethiopia to aid the famine there. At the same time the Ethiopian government was spending £3 million a day on arms to fight the Eritreans. Ironic or what?
There is no doubt in my view that countries with the wealth, should be doing more to eradicate poverty. I would however stress that efforts should be made to help the poorest nations first. Recently, we have another corporate scandal where people have the inhumanity, cruelty and greed to accumulate vast fortunes by stealing from their employees and shareholders, apparently legally. Only a tiny fraction of that stolen wealth could feed and clothe a village in Rwanda for a year. Corporations, banks and governments should certainly do more. It is time for the law to be re-written to stop protecting the wealth and allowing corruption on paper transactions and to deal with protecting humanity. Mind you, in reality, it is not going to happen, let's be honest, the status quo will continue.
James Sinclair, London, UK
Piecemeal development is a deliberate first world policy to slow down the developing nations so they will be easier to exploit and never threaten the status quo. Poor nations are essentially competitors struggling to establish themselves in business. The rich nations are loath to see them succeed for that would compromise their existing control over the market for the world¿s goods and services. Aid programmes of many descriptions have been tried and tested for many years now and they simply don¿t work. They aren¿t meant to. How can they when there¿s no income base to support their ongoing expansion? No one wants to hear lectures from affluent do gooders when they can¿t even put bread on the table. Feed them first then they might listen.
Of course we should all spend MUCH more time and resources solving the critical global catastrophe of 3rd world poverty, but the question is HOW?
First, let's look at the world's 10 most populous countries - only the USA and Japan, with corporate capitalism, do a great job of meeting the needs of their people.
Short-term global wealth redistribution won't do much and would chill productivity - we need a concerted effort on the part of all nations to replace the basket-case economies of the third world with as many McDonald's and Nike factories as possible.
Ironically, those who actually care MORE about the poor are too economically naive to understand that their restrictive, corporate prejudices, with subsequent foolish regulations on business, do more to hinder the poor than a Nike factory.
As someone who was a volunteer (vso) in Nigeria, I believe one of the first steps would be to stop allowing corrupt leaders to line heir pockets with development money. Money is not the answer. Corruption needs to be tackled, and until African leaders use their power to serve their people and not help themselves then I believe aid should be reduced. Under the current climate spending millions and millions of dollars would have a negative affect.
As an economist it is fair to say that the aim of any business is to maximise profits. However, what is very often ignored in such analysis is the utility gained from charitable and voluntary acts. From a purely economic perspective, I believe that it is profitable for businesses to engage in poverty eradication. A win-win situation is very possible and beneficial to all. Businesses gain utility as well as goodwill and the aim of a 'world free of poverty' is thus attainable.
The question; Do you think rich nations are doing enough to help the poor is in itself biased. I think we should ask, whether they are doing anything at all? Rich nations are the reason and cause of poverty in poor countries. It is their companies and agents that are plundering resources from poor countries and shipping back the loot. This, with faithful collaboration of elites from poor nations, whom they pay kickbacks and yet still blame poor countries for corruption. Rich nations are highly populated than poor ones. Perhaps by increasing birth rate, life will become much harder for poor countries that they begin to question the entrench exploitation.
The US should increase its contribution of aid to 0.7 percent of GDP, as the UN wishes. Moreover, to ensure that the US never again engages in unilateral thinking, Washington should withdraw all US troops and US naval, air, and ground forces from Europe, the Middle East, Japan, and the Korean DMZ. Washington should extend the shield of missile defence no further than NAFTA nations, while selectively cancelling GPS and other US satellite services outside that trading bloc.
Then, Washington should follow all UN guidelines verbatim and work to promote leadership roles for all "nations", including China, Iraq, Iran, Syria, North Korea, the Palestinian Authority, and Zimbabwe. To ensure that fairness reigns, America could then fund a billion-dollar media project to investigate and report on UN activities. It's time America stopped acting unilaterally... and started acting like Belgium.
The US has been somewhat generous in the past but needs to be more so. Not to just give money to countries where the sticky handed government officials would steal the funds but to set up programs of self help in starting small businesses, health care facilities and schools. In other words, the countries receiving the funds need to show proof of the services provided to raise the standard of living for the citizens who are in need of help.
Unless one ignores historical realities, the legacy of colonialism and imperialism, as well as the current suction of wealth from developing countries to developed ones, then the eradication of poverty is necessary. Yet, everything Westerners enjoy comes from the past and current suffering of those who worked under the boot of the West while their labour and natural resources were diverted from the colonized countries to the West. Every pen we use, every ounce of gasoline we consume is a direct result of the historical progression from colonial imperialism to modern economic imperialism. We have what we do because others do not. To ignore the fact that the West is rich because of historical exploitation and plunder is to turn a blind eye to reality and the way the global economic consensus is run. Not only is the eradication of poverty necessary, it is JUST!
Ryan Sykes, Portsmouth, UK
What the earth produces is more than enough to cater to the needs of every single human being anywhere in the world. But conceit,
inordinate arms, scientific
and space programs by the so called wealthy nations makes it impossible for resources to go round. If there were no politicians, the world would certainly be a more pleasing place to live in, especially for those in the less privileged areas. The cost of keeping
a single machine gun
running in the west is more than enough to take adequate care of over ten children for one year in Africa or Asia.
Increased foreign aid will be a great help to the poor nations -- particularly if it aimed at building the essentials missing from the lives of poor people -- better medical care, education, shelter, and the rudiments of an industrial base, without the intrusive, self-serving control of international capital. But assistance in the form of birth control and population control is at least as important -- overpopulation has been the world's most pressing problem since the global nuclear threat of the Cold War ended in the last decade -- and my country is sadly antediluvian in its refusal to alleviate the tremendous misery it causes. Besides, we Yanks have not figured out a way to profiteer from population control, nor are we likely to, given our backward ethical notions on population education, birth control and abortion.
Cheryl , USA
I agree with Cheryl, USA. Education is the key. Just providing hard cash has obviously not worked in the past. We should be providing aid in other ways, perhaps by sending teachers, doctors, business people. By providing support, not money. Also, I believe that contraception should be more widely available. Poor countries are more often than not over populated and steps to reduce the population should be considered.
The prosperous countries should shelve just for one year their "Outer Space Programs" and divert the monies for the prosperity of poor people around the World. There is no telling the tremendous impact it will have for years to come.
The biggest and most far reaching obstacle to a fairer distribution of wealth in the developing world is without a doubt, corruption. It permeates and effects every aspect of daily life in Africa and Asia. I don't really think that politicians and diplomats have the slightest idea as to what life is like in the real world in these countries. The problem needs to be addressed by the political and financial elite of the countries themselves. The only problem there is that we in the west have this naive view that the governments of those countries want a better life for their citizens. Sorry, it's not going to happen, they have every selfish reason in the book to maintain the social structure as it exists now. Big multinational corporations, to the extent that they have an extremely limited ability to change things, do do more good than harm, but to blame or praise them is really to miss the point entirely. The one and only way is to stop corruption, any other measures taken by whomever only really serves to convince ourselves in the developed west that we are trying to help the situation without really changing anything. Is that a definition of the effectiveness of politics and politicians ?
The present day market system all too clearly aggravates the plight of the majority of mankind, while enabling small sections to live in a condition of affluence scarcely dreamed of by our forebears. The extravagance and profligacy of the corporate world are but lending fresh impetus to the forces of revolt and reaction that threaten its peace and stability. Centre stage is an American government and its people clinging tenaciously to the obsolescent doctrine of absolute sovereignty. In so doing they uphold a political system, manifestly at variance with the needs of a world already contracted into a neighbourhood and crying out for unity. I believe in America but an America free of its anachronistic conceptions. We do not live in ivory towers. We must either open our eyes to the deprivation of the masses or risk hardship and loss in a world that will no longer tolerate selfishness, corruption, and greed among the arbiters of its affairs.
The scenes of famine in Ethiopia in the 80¿s were heartrending and led to massive charitable donations from the West. But if you look closely at those pictures how many men do you see of fighting age? You see very few because while they left their families to the care of the west the men were away fighting with Eritrea. It never ceases to amaze me that people that cannot feed or clothe themselves adequately frequently seem to have a rifle or Rocket Propelled Grenade launcher in their hands. An arms embargo on sales to the Third World should be instigated without delay. It will never happen though, because there is too much money to be made both by the West and corrupt regimes.
I for one would not spend any money on foreign aid until such time as the countries that want it show some willingness to sort themselves and their own priorities out first.
Is James suggesting that only the wealthy have the right to have children? The fact that millions of people are living in poverty is not because of birthrates, but because of a global economic system driven by greed and exploitation. Institutions such as the World Bank, whose officials enjoy some of the most lavish public sector salaries on earth, insist that nations such as Zambia must 'reform' public spending, with the inevitable consequences. Life expectancy has fallen from 54 to 40 and infant mortality has risen by 25% since 1980.
In response to Ryan, Portsmouth, England: People who can afford enough time, money, energy, and love to raise kids are the only people who should have them. Otherwise it's not fair to the innocent children. When you're starving and your mother has no food to spare but loves you or wants an heir or whatever, you're still starving.
More access to education is definitely needed! Not just education about birth control and abstinence, either. When children have more access to academic and vocational education, they grow up into adults better able to afford parenthood in the first place. Educated girls are also often better able to postpone marriage and motherhood until adulthood. She who becomes a mother at 22 will probably have fewer kids than she who begins at 12.
Yes, only when poverty is eradicated will people be able to live without worry and the need for hand outs. Only then will our global society know real peace. People across the world will all then feel as though they are on a more equal footing. I think though for poverty to really be eradicated greed will also need to be sidelined. This is where we will stumble.
I try to help as much as I can. I donate money every month to two third-world charities, and I also give extra at times of real crisis (droughts, floods, earthquakes).
I don't earn a lot, but I earn much, much more than the people in these countries. We need to stop thinking about ourselves so much, and start giving to others.
The UK is one of the biggest-hearted nations in the world - we give one of the highest amounts of money per head of population to charity. The US gives the most money every year to charity, but on a per capita basis, it is trailing the UK quite significantly. Bush could do so much to encourage his people to give more to charity - one way would be for the US government to give more to charity and less to warfare.
Mark M. Newdick, US/UK
Mark M. Newdick among many others holds up the corruption of 3rd world leaders as a reason why he feels no responsibility. Unfortunately this doesn't wash. Most 3rd world dictators are in place precisely because they suit the purposes of European and US commercial interests. Marcos of the Phillipines and Suharto of Indonesia would not have lasted 10 minutes without US support. Mobute, the arch-kleptocrat of Zaire came to power when Belgium and the CIA conspired to murder his predecessor. Idi Amin came to power with the help of British and Israeli military special forces. We are responsible for the poverty of these countries and all the right wing "not me" whining in the world will not change that fact.
Capitalism is the best method for delivering economic growth and incentive. However it is also the best for delivering injustice, corruption, and inequality. At some stage we must surely take a view that inequality is so extreme that the current system must undergo a correction (i.e. stop what we're doing in the West, correct some of the world's ills by wealth redistribution etc., then continue upon our capitalist path).
It is obvious to everybody that one of the richest countries of the world is America.
America is a country which describes itself to be very sympathetic towards the poor people of the world but what we see exactly is different. Currently George Bush has pledged billions for its military defence and only 297 million to the poor people of Afghanistan. it would be better if they instead promised billions for the poor people of the world and millions for its defence. We wish Mr. Annan would do something to make America and other rich countries to invest in order to eradicate poverty.
One of the biggest causes of poverty is not the lack of wealth in so-called poor nations, but the unfair distribution of that wealth. India has dollar billionaires, Africa has a very wealthy elite, South America is plagued by corruption and inequality. Global companies and their suppliers operating in third world countries could play a positive role by insisting on good working conditions for their employees and fighting corruption. Western banks should only lend money if it is clear that it will benefit the majority and not the corrupt minorities. The biggest enemies of the poor are their own corrupt governments!
The sooner all human beings realise that you can't have a better world by keeping the status quo the better. It's a disgrace that billions, perhaps trillions are spent on weapons, and in comparison only peanuts spent to help other countries out.
Poverty in the world is a result of pressure on resources from regional overpopulation. It is not because of rich regions failing to spread wealth. We need to educate poor regions in birth control.
I think he's right. Wiping out 3rd world debt would be a good start. Big business (especially the globalised variety) is responsible for a lot of the financial hardship in the 3rd world (and a lot of the workplace stress in the west!) so it's only fair they should give something back.
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