by Zhiqun Zhu
One of the greatest human tragedies of our time is that millions of people die of want in a world of surplus every year. Global poverty is a horrible story not told quite often. One billion people around the world live on less than one dollar a day, and three billion live on less than three dollars a day. More than one billion people lack clean water, and 2.4 billion lack sanitation facilities. Five million children die from hunger and over twelve million people are forced into prostitution yearly. Poverty forces millions more children to drop out of school every year. The average life expectancy of someone born in Africa is thirty-five years less than someone born in the United States.
What can we do to end this disgraceful situation?
1. Make combating global poverty a policy priority.
Current global spending and policy priorities are out of sync with the values at the core of our common humanity. Rich countries spend so little on foreign aid compared to everything else. For example, today global military expenditure has surpassed $900 billion annually, with the United States spending about half of it. Global expenses on development assistance are only $50-60 billion.
Immediately after World War II, the United States provided around ninety percent of total world aid. Today U.S. foreign aid accounts for fifteen percent of the world’s total. In terms of per capita aid, the United States ranks last among the twenty-two largest economies in the world. U.S. foreign aid is only a tiny portion of its total GNP—0.13%. Hence the charge that the United States is stingy—an accusation the American government vehemently rejects.
In comparison, the Iraq war has cost the United States about $130 billion, according to the White House’s Office of Management and Budget. The White House is expected to request as much as another $100 billion this year for war and related costs in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Some developing countries happen to be some of the world’s largest military spenders. If India and Pakistan, for example, decided to cut defense expenditure by fifty percent, their poverty could be eliminated in five years, according to India’s Information and Broadcasting Minister Jaipal Reddy.
Poverty is a great security challenge that requires more urgent attention than spreading democracy. When people have to worry about what to eat tomorrow, they will be less interested in democracy. Instead of voting with their hands, they will vote with their feet. Millions of people are trying to flee their homeland everyday to seek better opportunities in wealthier societies. Western Europe and North America are al-ready feeling the heat and the security challenges it poses.
2. Raise the awareness of the global poverty issue.
Two decades after the original Live Aid, when rock stars raised money for Ethiopian famine relief, singers and activists launched Live 8, a series of concerts on July 2, 2005, in Philadelphia, London, Paris, Rome, Tokyo and Berlin. Live 8’s goal was to raise awareness of Make Poverty History, a campaign to get the richest nations to cancel debt and increase aid to developing countries, and to promote fair trade. More such efforts should be made and more people are encouraged to participate.
As world leaders gathered in New York in September 2005 to hold the 2005 UN development summit, they realized, one hopes, that poverty in the developing world can no longer be ignored. To meet the UN Millennium Development Goals by 2015, we must make the next decade the development decade.
3. Go multilateral and global.
A multi-level and multidimensional contribution system needs to be established that involves national and local governments, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), international governmental organizations (IGOs), businesses, communities, and individuals. Global agencies like the World Bank, International Monetary Fund, and the United Nations Development Program—all have established monitoring systems and have country coordinators for their aid program.
World leaders and international organizations have a special role to play. G8 finance ministers’ agreement on June 11, 2005 to cancel debt for poor countries is the right thing to do. The international community is anxiously watching to see whether world leaders reached more agreements and mapped out concrete plans to eradicate global poverty at the UN summit in September 2005.
It is also encouraging that Paul Wolfowitz, the new head of the World Bank Group, has listed poverty reduction and development promotion as his two priority objectives during his presidency. One of his first international travels has taken him to four African countries recently to learn about poverty situations there.
4. Encourage individual and other non-governmental participations.
Individuals can also participate in non-governmental organizations and civic groups to help reduce poverty. Hundreds of groups worldwide have joined hands and formed the Global Call to Action Against Poverty (GCAP). The GCAP is a world wide alliance committed to making world leaders live up to their promises, and to making a breakthrough on poverty in 2005. What more humanitarian and nobler causes are there than helping fellow human beings? It is our collective responsibility to make sure that all humans live in dignity.
5. Treat it as a long-term project.
On January 23, 2004, President George W. Bush signed the law creating the Millennium Challenge Account (MCA) and the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC), which administers MCA funds. MCA is an innovative new aid program to countries with a proven record to reasonably good governance, investments in health and education, and sound economic policies. The MCA received $1 billion for fiscal year 2004. The President has promised to increase the budget for MCA to $5 billion by 2006.
China is an example of how the government and the society can jointly promote sustainable development. The Chinese government established several program to alleviate poverty in remote regions with the help of international organizations such as the World Bank. The Western Development Strategy, launched in 1998, has helped stimulate growth and poverty reduction in the Chinese West. Science and Technology training centers have been set up in poor regions to help farmers to learn skills for growing rice and crops. Non-governmental programs include Project Hope, which helps poor children in the countryside to complete primary school education, and Project Spring Bud, which helps girls who have dropped out of school in rural China to continue their education.
President John F. Kennedy in his inaugural address on January 20, 1961, remarked, “If a free society cannot help the many who are poor, it cannot save the few who are rich.” When about 3 billion human beings live in extreme poverty, we can never sleep carefree. “While poverty exists, there is no true freedom,” declares Nelson Mandela. Development, democracy and security are inextricably linked. We must take actions now to help the world’s poor and powerless so that we can all share a better future. It’s such a great cause that requires so little from the so rich. Governments, groups, and individuals around the globe can definitely do more to make this world a better place to live for everyone.
Zhiqun Zhu is assistant professor of international political economy and diplomacy at the University of Bridgeport in Connecticut. He received a Ph.D. in political science at the University of South Carolina. In the early 1990s, he worked in the information section of the American consulate general in Shanghai. Dr. Zhu has published widely on U.S.-Chinese relations.