Socialist Worker

United Nations admits 'World leaders are failing the poorest'

by Theresa Bennett
Issue No. 1735

World leaders are failing to meet their own target to cut world poverty by half, according to a new report by a United Nations (UN) committee on rural poverty. New Labour international development secretary Clare Short promotes the market as the answer to ending world poverty.

She claims, 'Globalisation brings with it opportunities and risks. If the poorest people and countries can be included in the global economy on more beneficial terms, it could lead to a rapid reduction in global poverty.' Yet the figures in this report expose how more of the neo-liberal, pro-market policies that Short advocates have worsened the poverty and misery of the poor around the world.

Some 147 world leaders pledged to halve world poverty by the year 2015 at a special United Nations Millennium Summit in June of last year. But they are doomed to fail, says the UN's International Fund for Agricultural Development committee.

The world's poor are now trapped in poverty for even longer, as the level of poverty reduction has slowed down over the last decade. The report found:

  • Over 1.2 billion people in the world are in extreme poverty, living on less than $1 a day.
  • Over two thirds of the world's poor live in Asia.

  • In sub-Saharan Africa over half the population struggle to survive below the poverty line.
  • In the last ten years only ten million people a year have managed to escape from extreme poverty. This is one third of the rate needed to meet the commitment to halve world poverty by 2015.
  • The rate of poverty reduction in sub-Saharan Africa is six times less than the rate needed to halve poverty.

At the same time the very world leaders who talk of 'poverty reduction' are refusing to offer aid and financial assistance to developing countries.

  • Between 1987 and 1998 the share of aid going to the poorest countries, which have over 85 percent of the world's poor, stayed around the same level.
  • During the same time aid for agriculture in developing countries was cut by two thirds.

The UN report condemns 'the sheer scale of mass poverty' and 'human beings condemned to short lives stunted by malnutrition, ill health and illiteracy'. But it advocates more 'trade liberalisation' and 'public-private initiatives' as a solution.

Yet it is the very pursuit of such neo-liberal policies which has condemned growing numbers of the world's population to suffer early death, starvation and disease. Moreover Western leaders, banks and institutions like the International Monetary Fund continue to squeeze billions of pounds from the poorest countries in debt repayments.

That is why thousands of people are organising now to protest against the criminal policies of world leaders when they meet at the G8 summit in Genoa in Italy on 20-23 July this year. The protesters will be demanding that the G8 leaders immediately cancel all the debts of the poorest countries, and an end to the neo-liberal policies which condemn thousands of people to death every single day.

The protests are part of the growing worldwide resistance to a system which benefits giant corporations at the expense of the rest of us. The utter failure of world leaders to meet even a fraction of their promises to reduce world poverty should increase our determination to make the Genoa protest as big and successful as possible.

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Sat 17 Feb 2001, 00:00 GMT
Issue No. 1735
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