by Anita Sharma
This op-ed was published in Open Democracy.
The international effort to end world poverty may not at present be the highest-profile one on a global news agenda dominated by financial turmoil and worries over the coming recession. But the public engagement with the issue is real and sustained. This was reflected in an extraordinary global mobilisation on the weekend of 17-19 October 2008. "Stand Up and Take Action" was supported in 131 countries by nearly 117 million people, who participated in diverse events - from marches to religious ceremonies - and were united by a shared demand that this generation of political leaders do their utmost in the anti-poverty endeavour.
True, the global financial crisis does threaten to erase gains made in the fight against poverty, and puts budgets and existing commitments in jeopardy. But this makes the "Stand Up..." initiative, and those like it, all the more urgent and appropriate. The implosion of key pillars of the world's credit system is the culmination of a debilitating year in which rising fuel and food prices have pushed more than a million more people into extreme poverty, and caused countless others to make life-or-death deliberations about how to spend their meagre resources. It is precisely now that the poorest people in the world need solidarity.
A cause unwon
Indeed, 2008 was supposed to be the year when world leaders reaffirmed their pledges to improve the lives of the poor; for this is the halfway point of the timetable for the fulfilment of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). This global eight-point compact - agreed by 189 leaders at the United Nations Millennium Summit in 2000 - aims by 2015 to reduce poverty, improve health and education, and protect the environment through partnerships between developed and developing countries.
There have been important successes in the 2000-08 period - among them the reduction of deaths from HIV/Aids by a million, the increase of school-enrolment numbers by 40 million, and the access of some 1.6 billion people to safe drinking-water. Among the confluence of factors responsible for these achievements, external aid to the poorest countries and debt cancellation have played a crucial role. This provisional but real progress can continue if the MDGs are backed by good political leadership and adequate resources (see Andrew Shepherd, "The anti-poverty relay: a progress report", 24 September 2008).
At the same time, debilitating poverty persists: more than 1.4 billion people barely survive on $1.25 a day, 50 million people die each day of preventable causes, and half the population of the developing world lacks access to decent sanitation. Even before the financial crisis hit, developed countries were cutting back on their foreign-aid commitments, with few on target to meet the agreed figure of 0.7% of gross national income.
The global financial downturn is certain to put even more
strain on the poorer nations of the globe. This places even more responsibility
on the global north to maintain its support for the MDGs. The financial summit
on 15 November 2008 in
In the words of United Nations secretary-general Ban Ki-moon after a meeting with five eminent economists and the head of the United Nations Development Programme on 23 October:
"While recently we have heard much in [the