Willing the World's Silent Tsunami Away

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Bono, the rock musician who’s not an economist , best summed up one of the great international agenda issues for 2005: “We have the cash, we have the drugs, we have the science – but do we have the will? Do we have the will to make poverty history?”

We what? We do? We can?

Yes, not only can we eradicate hardcore, entrenched poverty, but mind bogglingly it has been possible for 35 years.

Well, then what’s the catch? Why don’t we? Yes, we have the cash. Yes, we have the drugs, and yes, we have the science. It is, however, Bono’s questions that are the heart of the answer. As the people who deliberately and consciously elected our representatives and thusly our governments, do we have the will to insist of them that we really do want poverty to become a part of history?

We certainly had the will to help with the media event starring the Tsunami in The Indian Ocean, where upwards of 300,000 people tragically perished. The Western and Eastern world clicked together with the will to give and give and give; even to the extent of hopping on planes to go to the devastated sites, to care for the sick and suffering, or whatever it took to help. Make no mistake: the politicians took note. Witness the first offering of the United States, a paltry couple of million dollars. When the Director of the UN’s told the Emperor he had no clothes, they coughed up a rather more generous amount. Australia, taking keen notice, made their initial offer of some US$800 million, a bit more seemly and a bit more deliberately (?) generous than the still half-dressed Uncle Sam. This is pretty convincing proof, that if we have the will, we can propel the powers that be into executing it.

The Tsunami in the Indian Ocean took under half a million lives with it. Every year in the Republic of the Congo alone, four million people die as a direct result of hardcore poverty. Over one billion people exist on less than one US dollar a day. It almost sounds too overwhelming, doesn’t it? In reality, it is a stunning no-brainer. 35 years ago, the ten wealthiest nations pledged to give 0.7-percent of their GNP for development assistance. And that, folks, is where we lost the attention span of the politicians. With no media fanfare to trumpet our generosity, to deluge us with sad and horrific photographs and narratives, as of this writing only five countries (Norway, Sweden, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, and Denmark) have met their targets. The world’s two richest economies, the US and Japan, spend 0.2 and 0.15-percent respectively on aid.

Surveys carried out since the 26 December event showed the average person in many countries spending US$70 each on the Tsunami. If we insisted our governments to live up to their long ago pledges, it would cost us only fifty cents out of every US$100 income to “help the poorest in the world get a foothold on the ladder of development,” as comments Jeffrey Sachs, head of the team that produced the 3000 page report, “Investing in Development: A Practical Plan to Achieve the Millennium Development Goals” for the UN’s Kofi Annan. 

Sachs sums up the goal of eradicating poverty as “eminently achievable.” He believes sustainable development requires a holistic approach. He calls it “clinical economics.” First, ensure the rich countries pay what they promised 35 years ago. Then with that money don’t build fancy infrastructure, but address the root problems of the hardcore poor. Simple things like clean water, productive soils, and a functioning healthcare system are the vital beginnings. With the science we’ve had for years, address the hugely underestimated killer of Malaria. Stop the spread of HIV/Aids and put fiercely strong sanctions in place against weak, corrupt, and warring nations. Then forgive foreign debt. The poor are not asking for freebies, only for the opportunities rich countries already enjoy. Also crucial to the solution is the liberalisation of trade. Just a 1-percent increase in Africa’s share of world exports would be worth five times as much as the continent’s share of aid and debt relief. It takes some courage for politicians to confront vocal protectionist policies at home, so this is where our will proves genuine. 

To underscore my personal anger at how billions on our family tree are essentially drowning invisibly, I think of Iraq. Since 9/11 when 3000 well-nourished Westerners died, the US has spent an astronomical chunk of change to fight its ‘war on terror,’ including massive amounts for the military hardware needed to shock and awe us. If just onethirteenth of that amount (about US$16 billion) is spent by the US alone, almost every society destabilised by entrenched poverty will stabilise. It is the instability of societies where the root causes of terrorism lie and fester 

Perhaps if the electronic and print media treat this silent tsunami that relentlessly continues to wash over one-fifth of humanity, in the same way they prioritised the 26 December event, the will of the people would be stirred enough to once again click together and let conscience overrule the barriers now in place.


Source: The Expat June 2005, article by Marybeth Ramey

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