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Tuesday, 2 April, 2002, 10:20 GMT 11:20 UK
Are wealthy countries doing enough to end world poverty?
President George W Bush has told a United Nations conference against poverty that poor countries must undertake political, economic and legal reforms in order to get Western aid.
In his keynote speech at the conference in Monterrey, Mexico, Mr Bush said: "Liberty and law and opportunity are the conditions for development."
UN Secretary General Kofi Annan has asked for an additional $50bn a year from rich nations to meet the conference's aim of halving the number of people living on less than $1 a day by 2015.
Washington has however declined to endorse this, and believes that free trade and private investment hold the key to development.
The conference ended with the adoption of an agreement calling on wealthy countries to help reduce the poverty gap, and for poorer nations to use foreign aid more efficiently.
Do you think that wealthy nations are doing enough to end world poverty? What in your opinion was achieved at this week's summit?
This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.
I think the whole process of development is more complicated than simply giving money and trying to force democratic norms.
Indeed. Typical. I am amazed every day by what comes out of George Bush's mouth. It shows he has no concept of international relations or history. How does he think those countries got that way in the first place? Do the words: Colonisation, Exploitation, Slavery, WWI& WWII, Cold War, Apartheid, Neocolonisation and so-called war on terror mean nothing? Those countries do not need financial aid, they need support in the very same political and economic matters. Aid for poverty is not the EU where you have to fulfil certain criteria. This is a global problem. Typical for leaders from the West, North and developed countries like George Bush to say the above. It is a ploy to cut aid cost for without help these countries will never be eligible. To sit back and let those who fight with each other and starve continue and then reap the spoils whatever they may be
I think it is largely true, that aid is the poor of rich countries giving to the rich of poor countries. People like Clare Short have a lot to answer for!
What we should help the poor countries with is some serious population control.
It looks as if Oxfam and the other weary crowd of angst ridden do-gooders are girding their loins for another begging bowl pass a round this time for Southern Africa. Meaning Zimbabwe and Zambia et al. So quick to criticise the USA, these do-gooders have watched Mugabe for twenty odd years without much of whimper. So the big bad brutal supermarkets can offer our OAP's penny cans of beans to support our kindness and I thought it was another African renaissance year! Zambia was richer per capita with more reserves then the UK at independence.
Oh, thank you so much for your aid. Bless you George! After all it is for our sakes that you pounded Afghanistan.
Gertrude Tembo, Zambia
Why should countries like the USA focus on eliminating poverty around the globe when we have poverty right here? We haven't been able to solve our own problems, so how on Earth can anybody expect us to help the developing world?
Have you heard about these "water sommeliers"? They buy bottled spring water and hold serious tastings, as if it were wine. This water comes from springs people once depended on for water-- and it's not governments who are buying up the springs, it's companies, spurred on by individuals. We Americans are right to feel a bit defensive about this, too, since our actions as individuals are quite different from our government's actions. Please stop judging and begin doing something concrete.
We hear very little lately about the issue of debt in developing countries. It seems that leaders in the west are not willing to help others as much as talk about it at summits. The poverty in much of the world is a direct result of current action and policy by western countries. They encourage societies to remove themselves from a subsistence economy, and instead to produce for export. Wealthy countries dominate the markets though, and poor countries often find the market flooded with our products (such as wheat) that drive down the price, and then no one can afford anything at all -not even the cheap wheat!
The theory is simple. Wealthy nations provide funding for industrial, agricultural, and infrastuctural development, which creates jobs and a self sustaining economy. Its not an impossible dream, and one which all right thinking people in wealthy countries would be happy to see resulting from some of their taxes. Ultimately aid / loans would no longer be needed. But factor in corruption, political instability, dictatorship and incompetent Government, and the model falls apart. Zimbabwe? Just the most recent example. Not the first and sadly it will not be the last.
Countries like India (where I am from) that have abundant resources do not really need any aid from the developed world to eliminate poverty. All it needs is a honest public sector work force, a society willing to make short-term sacrifices and politicians with political will-power to bring necessary changes.
Until poor countries do something to control their population growth, aid from the developed world is useless. If money and technology inputs are used to raise the numbers in these countries instead of reducing poverty, what is the point?
The question is hardly a relevant one. What needs to be asked is "are the poor countries helping themselves?" When corruption is as widespread as it is, and money is squandered in the quantities that it has been lately, what's the point? I get the feeling that a lot of aid money somehow makes a short stop in the country it is intended to help and then continues on to Switzerland.
Aid. The rich helping the poor. The West helping the poor countries. But steady on, the West does not want to bring up these countries to any standard like in Western Europe or the US. If that were the case then the poorer countries would not need the West because they would have all the raw materials they needed AND manufacture what they need. Then would the still need the West? I think not, but the real question is would the West still need these countries? I need not answer that.
President Bush is absolutely right to demand free market reforms and political freedom. Take Poland. Billions of dollars in foreign loans have been completely wasted due to ineptness and political intransigence of the country's regime. Take Russia - dozens of billions have been wasted due to an inept government system and endemic corruption. By the way, who in full possession of their faculties would lend let alone gave money to Zimbabwe, Nigeria, Sudan or Somalia? No reforms, no money, simple as that.
Until the funds and aid we give these countries is stopped being used to buy guns or raise young people into young men who carry guns around we aren't helping anyone.
We cannot set up a business infrastructure in a country that is still learning to till the soil. The money should be going into research in how to revitalise the soil and produce food and clothing for people - not trying to give them a modern way of life when they are still just learning basic farming techniques.
Paul B, Oxfordshire, UK
I agree with President Bush. Poverty can never be ended in poor countries until there are political, economic and legal reforms. In addition, the birth rate in poor countries is exploding. In the wealthier developed nations, the people are educated enough to understand that having too many children leads to poverty. Lower birth rates lead to higher standards of living - a very simple formula.
No government is truly representative of its entire population. The concept of nationhood is not inviolable and it can't be used to condemn a vast chunk of humanity to perpetual poverty and deprivation.
Poorer countries will never get out of poverty by asking the West for help all the time for a number of reasons. Firstly, it makes them believe that they are themselves incapable of fermenting necessary change. Secondly, the West is not committed enough to provide for the long-term hands-on approach that is warranted, and thirdly, the economic leverage over the third world that comes from the lending of aid serves no one well except big western businesses & bureaucratic charity groups, through whom most of the money is siphoned away, with very little of it reaching the people who need it most.
James Davey, UK
I think this is just another circus. You think the rich are willing to give up their wealth?
You can give these countries all the money in the world, but if it doesn't get to the people who need it what's the point. We continue to give billions to countries around the world so their leaders can build extravagant palaces and use it for other nonsense. We must ensure the money goes where it is supposed to and corrupt countries will be left in the cold.
When we hear the leaders of the West praising the virtues of "free trade" as the solution to helping the poor people, their hypocrisy is clear. Are they not the same people putting tariffs on steel and subsidising their farmers?
Aftab Ahmed Abro, Karachi, Pakistan
If the birth rate of a nation is far higher than its economic growth there is no hope of ending poverty. Western aid in the form of birth control and pressure on third world governments to promote family planning will go a long way toward reducing poverty. Bangladesh has widely promoted family planning for years and has been having success in reducing its birth rate, so it can be done even by the poorest nations.
True liberalisation of ALL markets is the single most important action that must be taken. Trade but not aid with a liberalised market will give all of us (developed and developing) equal opportunities for wealth creation.
While I agree that the developed world has a role to play in poverty reduction, its role needs to be performed with utmost sincerity. Tying aid to a lot of "strings" is not of any use and may benefit neither the donor nor the recipient. The big powers and multinational companies must come in and participate directly in the development process themselves since handing the aid packages directly to governments has been a dismal failure in many underdeveloped countries. On the other hand it is important for the North to know that development has to take an integrated approach. And it cannot be done without involving those directly affected.
Poverty is the result of greed, usually due to corruption and despotic leadership. It will continue indefinitely until the leaders of civilized nations are prepared to deal with the likes of Mugabe whose greed for money and power ultimately end up in starvation for millions. Third world nations run up huge debts financing wars and then try and blame the West for their financial mess! While not entirely innocent for the mess, Western nations aren't daft enough to invest in third world countries only to see their endeavours snatched or destroyed by military coups and the likes.
One of the largest problems in aid is inconsistency in policy both from the donors and in the recipient countries.
The discussion around globalization is a case in point. I believe that trade liberalization and globalization is beneficial and would decrease poverty but it would need true liberalization of all markets. The first world exports its image of wealth by all possible mass media but if people of the third want their opportunity to acquire some of that wealth they are not allowed to work in the USA or Europe because labour markets are not liberalized. While Europe has a history of emigrants going the rest of the world to seek their fortunes. When the situation is turned around we get scared and put up fences.
It would be a nice change if we did see some benefit from this summit, after all we are awaiting results from various other summits, and declarations that seem to all focus on how much money the G8 are going to spend on ending poverty but never on how they are going to do it. Regardless, the results of these summits seem to be more beneficial to first world politics then third world poverty because Ms. Short et al, we are still awaiting the benefits of your jubilee 2000 commitments.
In the past (and even the present), much bilateral aid was provided solely as a way of securing geo-political influence and with no real intention of helping the recipient countries. Industrialized countries deliberately adopted this approach, with little real concern for development outcomes, so they shouldn't now act surprised that "aid hasn't worked" and make veiled references to the ineptitude of those in developing countries.
Yes, it's true that conditions are necessary to some extent, and it's even truer that developing-world governments have much to answer for in their poor management of resources and the public's trust; but rich countries should acknowledge that these problems are as much (if not more) a result of their own actions as those of aid-receiving countries, and they should have the courage to put these tainted practices behind them and see aid for what it is - not charity or kind-hearted benevolence on their part, but restitution, plain and simple.
Whether it's a poor nations or a poor individual I don't see much sign of those who have the money making much effort to give it away. The price of goods has never been entirely demand-led but is dependent upon the highest bidder. While members of the community can outbid others there will always be poverty. Our current housing market is an example of that and I don't see anybody arguing to devalue property prices.
It is not really accurate to refer to "what their people want" in nations where there is no representative democracy, government accountability, literacy, etc. One would anticipate that the nations themselves would have an interest in sustainable development, democracy, and eventual self-reliance. So perhaps while it is not appropriate to link aid to such failed programs such as changing subsistence farming to cash crops, it may be useful to emphasize the need for education, free elections, ending human rights abuses, or raising the status of women. U.S. foreign policy has been especially guilty of using aid to gain political leverage; perhaps in the post cold war era there is a chance to make amends.
I'd like to say that I completely agree with NK...we must only give aid to nations that we know will, in turn, distribute that aide among its people and not into their private bank accounts. Also, I didn't agree with Mark Van Der Born's comment that "any country wanting help must abide by what we want. Not what their people want." In most of these countries, the government does not care about what the "people" want - the aid wouldn't get to them anyway. And many people may not approve of America's actions for not giving enough aid, but these people should instead question their own government and ask themselves why their own leaders cannot provide for them - leave America alone - there are many poor people there as well.
I believe very strongly in the Christian idea, "do unto others what you would have others do unto you." Would you want people in other countries debating whether it was right to help you when you had no food. NO! So stop debating and start helping people. I think some so called "middle-class Christians" have forgotten "love thy neighbour" and turned to right-wing politics. There are people dying out there. They may not be of the white race but they certainly are of the human race.
Marcus ter Haar, Botswana student (UK)
Since poverty is an entirely relative condition it will never be possible to eliminate it. However, it should be incumbent on the rich 'first world ' countries to address the fundamental problems of the poor either by taking the aid directly to those in greatest need or funnelling it through an international agency which will ensure that it does not find it's way into the pockets of the 'tin pot' dictators who currently live off the backs of poor people. There are way too many palaces, Swiss bank accounts, private jets and private armies under control of third world dictators - it's time we stopped adding to their wealth and power.
Yes, I truly believe that international co-operation can reduce poverty in poorer countries. The development summit should aim to provide poor countries with meaningful development programs rather than loans. Projects may vary from country to country, where some may need infrastructure, such as, roads, rail networks, etc. As the saying goes, build the roads and the roads will build your country. Apply the proverb, "Give a man a fish you may feed him for a day, but teach him how to fish and you may feed him for life."
Please spare us from confused and muddled thinking. I have frequently visited Wales and have lived in India for the last 3 years. I wonder if JP from Wales realises how tasteless his comparisons of "poverty" in Wales with that in developing countries. When floods occur in Britain people cry on TV about how they have "lost everything"- we never see them on the shopping spree the week after they get the insurance cheque! When floods, famine or other catastrophes hit developing countries you see few tears on TV - the grief experienced is beyond tears.
Most developing countries are crying out for the kind of real foreign investment that creates jobs, enhances education levels and above all creates a sense of hope in the future. One of the biggest threats to these areas is the anti-globalisation lobby - often funded by western trade unions worried that people in developing countries will do the same (or better) work for less money than their members. What's more, they will consider themselves well off and see their lives enhanced by having that work. The creation of global markets means a fairer world and we should question very carefully the motives of those who wish to stand in the way of progress.
Bush travelling to this 'Special Development Summit' should give us all hope that the US may now be starting to understand that her own future security in this global village is inexorably linked to tackling hunger and poverty around the world.
With one quarter of the worlds population going hungry every day (source: UN) we should have no doubt that if we fail to reduce this figure our security and the future of the kind of democratic system that we all value will be damaged by the eventual backlash that this inequality will produce. (The destruction caused in New York in September being a clear reminder of the consequences of inaction).
Action can be taken that would serve to offer the world's poor and hungry access to the resources necessary to grow the food to feed themselves and to sell to others. Imaginative solutions must be encouraged at this high level and the resources and necessary energies to implement the changes must be delivered by the all the world's nations, both rich and poor.
History has repeatedly taught us that the kind of inequalities (i.e. access to resources - essential for both survival as well as wealth creation in any region) that are so apparent to us all today, will have to be addressed eventually - and let's face it, the vast majority of people around the world would far prefer this to be achieved through agreements at summit meetings rather than through violence, weather that be instituted by the US or its 'opponents'.
Another significant reason is the type of project that is being supported - does it really contribute towards an overall reduction of poverty at all, or is it just a high-profile exercise? Many projects funded by aid are controversial, environmentally unsound, and do not involve the general population at the point of impact, i.e. the ones that suffer the brunt of the disruption, and whose livelihood is severely impacted.
A third significant reason is that projects do not take into account the growth of demand with time. In countries where the population is stagnant, or even declining, this factor could be conveniently overlooked, but where population growth is upwards of 2.5% per annum, (and this is highly likely to apply in countries wishing to receive aid), it of course means that a project will never meet the required demand anyway unless the increase is calculated in at the start.
President Bush is correct to say that aid without conditions will not be given, provided that the conditions imposed are the correct ones. Unfortunately, this looks as though it will become another vehicle for the furtherance of economic reforms that are ill-advised and inapplicable for the recipient countries, but which will open the floodgates for the full onslaught of global corporate might into defenceless lands.
I see nothing here that will meet the prime requirement, i.e. to contribute towards an overall reduction of poverty. To do this, people need to be able to earn their own living, and support their own families, which in turn means that they need jobs. Not the slave labour that is currently perpetrated in the economic export zones and sweatshops of this world, but jobs that pay a fair day's pay for a fair day's work, under decent and humane conditions.
The Executive Summary of the Report produced by the World Commission on Dams provides a clear indication of why so many projects are going wrong, and proposes methods for dealing with the problems found. This information could well be extrapolated over the whole range of development aid, for it provides for consensus between all affected parties. This would automatically rule out such things as unwarranted economic reforms.
I originally come from a third world country. One of the poorest. And I believe in what Mr. Bush is trying to do. There has to be reform in third world countries, particularity within the main political infrastructure.
Perhaps Mr. Bush should consider narrowing the gap between rich and poor in his own country before telling other countries what they should do?
Ijaz Ahmed, United Kingdom
International co-operation built on respect and equality is a way out of poverty. Any aid given will be on the donors' conditions and this is not the way for materially poorer countries. These countries are normally richer in culture and tradition than the countries they receive "aid" from. I would like to see leaders of materially poorer countries stand up for the human rights of their people first. Leaders have to think in the long term and raw material producing countries have to cooperate and demand right prices for their commodities. Resources diverted to the armed forces should be used for other purposes. This should give these countries a good start. Let Bush and the others keep their money. Let's go for our freedom!
It is a sad reality that many of the "poorest" nations in the world are most likely going to be as such for a long, long, long time. In past ages we would have just taken them over, but national boundaries being so sacred as we hold them today, these nations will instead be mired in poverty and become international welfare recipients for as long as we let them on the dole. The only way for us to really help these nations is to absorb them and then invest in our new territory or make them develop real economies on their own, lest the moral hazard of being "Wards of the West" relegates them to tourist attractions in the future.
Look, NK is right. If you don't like the conditions under which the charity is given then don't accept charity. It is not a matter of what people want, it is a matter of what they need. If these poorer countries just needed aid then we would have solved this problem by now. There are systemic problems that must be addressed for this to ever end. I would rather give a man a fishing pole on the condition that he learns to fish than give him fish every time starvation sets in. Who knows, he just might be successful and then be able to help others.
35,000 children die each day due to malnutrition and preventable disease. How can this be allowed to happen? I guess political, economic and legal reform is necessary before something is done to save them. bah.
I agree with NK, UK: All of the money we taxpayers have put into these countries hasn't helped much. In fact, it seems to be only helping corrupt dictators, and not the people. Giving money to people who refuse to follow sound economic policies is just plain dumb. For example, would you keep giving money to a businessman who has continually shown that he cannot run one, due to the fact that he knows nothing of how to run a business? I would hope not.
These countries must get it together legally, socially, and economically before aid will help them in the long run to build their countries. Anyone who says otherwise is just blind, and trying to be politically correct.
NK, UK - those countries need the money to build that economic and political structure. Or are we trying to put the cart before the horse here? And besides if they spend whatever they are getting in debt-servicing for the loans they have taken, progress will be close to impossible. You need to cancel that debt first, and then channel the money for further development. I am all for rich countries overseeing how this aid money is spent. If I gave someone money I would want to know what they were going to do with it. What I disapprove of more is the fact that some of these rich countries exploit this situation by putting terms and conditions that only make it favourable for their firms to operate, or their economies to flourish at the expense of the developing world.
Typical. Any country wanting help must abide by what we want. Not what their people want.
15 Mar 02 | Business
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