Poverty, pledges and a chance that must not be missed

Click to follow
The Independent Online

The United Nations report on world poverty is admirably direct in pointing out how skewed the priorities of wealthy nations have traditionally been in this area. Professor Jeffrey Sachs, the report's author, yesterday spoke of, "a tremendous imbalance of focus on the issues of war and peace, and less on the dying and suffering of the poor". It is difficult to find fault with Professor Sachs's conclusion that "the system is not working". Not when 150,000 children in Africa die from malaria, a largely preventable disease, every month. And not when so many rich nations - including Britain - have failed to stick to their 1970 promise to commit 0.7 per cent of their GDP to development aid.

The United Nations report on world poverty is admirably direct in pointing out how skewed the priorities of wealthy nations have traditionally been in this area. Professor Jeffrey Sachs, the report's author, yesterday spoke of, "a tremendous imbalance of focus on the issues of war and peace, and less on the dying and suffering of the poor". It is difficult to find fault with Professor Sachs's conclusion that "the system is not working". Not when 150,000 children in Africa die from malaria, a largely preventable disease, every month. And not when so many rich nations - including Britain - have failed to stick to their 1970 promise to commit 0.7 per cent of their GDP to development aid.

But the Sachs report is no counsel of despair. It argues that 500 million people can escape from poverty and tens of millions can avoid premature death if the world's rich countries double their aid budgets by 2006. Relatively simple measures such as the provision of mosquito nets could save the lives of millions of children in the developing world. And if rich countries open their markets, the very poorest nations should grow richer. The report is a timely reminder of the pledge taken by the world's governments at the Millennium Summit to halve world poverty by 2015.

It is gratifying that the issue of world poverty seems to be firmly embedded in the international diplomatic agenda for this year. Gordon Brown has pledged himself to making the cause of sub-Saharan Africa central to his efforts in 2005. Tony Blair has promised to use Britain's presidency of the G8 to alleviate poverty, and will soon receive a report from his Commission for Africa. The UN will hold a summit to discuss the Sachs report later this year. The more pressure that is brought to bear on the international community to act, the better.

But there is a risk that, amid all these initiatives, the central message will become muddied and that politicians will begin squabbling about who can gain the most credit. That cannot be allowed to happen. The world must seize this opportunity and work together to fight the scourge of poverty, disease and hopelessness. History will not judge us kindly if we miss this chance.

Comments