Saturday, November 18, 2006

'Make Poverty History' gets a rerun, but the focus on this burning issue is all too short and infrequent

Organisers of the Make Poverty History concert in Melbourne and U2's Bono have urged members of the G20 Summit to commit to debt relief for third world countries.

As someone who worked in the world of international aid for about two decades I despair that the mindset of those that make 'official aid' policy has not evolved to address the needs of our global reality.

Official aid should not be used as a trade instrument or conduit for first world cultural projections on to economically weaker societies. To get beyond the simplistic lexicon of a political economy shaped exclusively by global market forces, world leaders need to explore more humanist solutions to the provision of basic human needs and acknowledge that failure to do so will condemn all of us to an insecure future.

The onus on developed world leaders to end 'charity' as a basis for aid provision and imposed, culturally skewed economic prescriptions is urgent. New partnerships with the developing world to share resources equitably and strengthen human capability in areas of most need should be viewed as essential investments in global security.

The first world is getting richer, whilst the poor in developing regions retreat into ever more grinding poverty. Ruling elites tread the comfortable track of well-paid jobs, serviced environs, nice houses, mod cons and domestic help. Behind this fa├žade the poor make their way, as they always have, along rough tracks out of sight of built up residential enclaves, across barrens into slums and shanty towns. Their circumstances are getting worse and their story is repeated over and over again in the post-colonial world. The spatial reality of third world urban landscapes is a symbol of a cruel dichotomy.

The vast majority of the world's poor are either underemployed or unemployed, barely eking a living in market economies that have left them behind, housed cheek by jowl in squalid conditions with little or no services or amenities. Alternatively, they are part of the legions of rural poor, living hand to mouth on marginal land or with no land at all.

In some countries the poor do not register on the human development index. They have dropped off the statisticians’ radar. They leave so little evidence of their daily struggle to exist.

We urgently need a leadership that has the vision to make bold decisions and to bridge the dangerous north-south divide in ways that reflect the principle that poverty is anathema to human rights.

We could start with a few simple policy shifts. They include fostering better understanding of third world countries in the West, developing genuine partnerships with aid recipients, and improving governance through cooperative arrangements, civil society alliances and people to people engagements.

The current score card is bleak and going backwards. A sense of superiority pervades Western attitudes toward the developing world. The hectoring of developing neighbours to conform to Western security and governance templates is becoming more strident.

Economic clout is used to bully weaker countries into accepting interference in their domestic affairs. Aid is provided to repressive regimes to shore up trade interests.

Aid has become more politicised and further compromised as a means to strengthen relations with partner countries.

Cry enough...

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