Moving Beyond More Aid and Fair Trade

Ending Poverty

Published on STWR.org (Share The World Resources), by Davinder Kaur, Nov. 18, 2008.

As the United Nations seeks increased financial assistance from donor countries to help meet the flagging Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), the inadequacy of international aid and fairer trade agreements has never been so clear …

… Securing Basic Human Needs:

The current economic system, based on ever-increasing economic growth as the overarching solution to fighting poverty, is both ineffective and unsustainable.  The key to tackling poverty and inequality must come from a change in principles and priorities from which practical steps can be taken to put long-term structures in place. One such solution would be to define and redistribute essential resources in order to immediately secure basic human needs.  The universal right to a life of dignity and survival has long been enshrined in article 25 of the 1948 UN Declaration of Human Rights which states that “everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing, medical care and necessary social services.”

There is no reason why 967 million people should go to bed hungry every day. The problem is not defined by a scarcity of food, but by the insufficient access to resources for millions of the world’s poor who lack the necessary purchasing power to survive. The ‘trickle-down theory’ of economic growth, or the political promise that wealth accumulated by the rich would eventually permeate down through society, has proven to be grossly insufficient in dealing with the urgent demand for basic and essential needs.

To immediately reduce inequality and end extreme poverty, a new international mechanism is required which can facilitate a greater economic sharing of essential resources.  The most critical of these are land, basic agricultural produce, water, energy and essential medicines, which together need to be defined, withdrawn and protected from international markets and no longer traded by multinational corporations. A similar initiative was supported by over 100 civil society organisations at the recent WTO talks. Bolivia, Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua presented a proposal to remove healthcare, education, water, telecommunications and energy from the WTO “on the basis that these essential public services are human rights which governments have an obligation to provide, and should not be treated as tradable commodities.”

Although the UN is in need of considerable reform, it should play a lead role in redistributing essential resources. It is the only international body with the experience, expertise and financial resources to initiate and coordinate such a crucial program. A new body within the UN needs to be responsible for a short-term emergency relief program to address the urgent needs of the 50,000 people who die each day from poverty, of which 30,000 are children. Simultaneously, a long-term program could begin to coordinate securing the wider basic needs of the global public.

A genuine change in principles and a renewed sense of commitment is urgently needed to tackle extreme poverty and inequality.  A global undertaking of this scale would not come without further challenges and complexities, but it would lead to rapid and progressive change as low-income countries lift themselves out of poverty without permanently relying on financial hand-outs. Campaigning for the redistribution of essential resources, rather than just more aid or fairer trade, is the first vital step to securing the basic needs of the world community. (full text).

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