Could the Make Poverty History campaign actually make
poverty history? It’s ambitious, but then so was William
Wilberforce and the anti-slavery campaign...and Martin Luther
King Jr and the civil rights campaign...and Desmond Tutu and
the anti-apartheid campaign.
UNITED VOICE: Some of the tens of thousands who gathered
in Edinburgh last year while world leaders met the
G8 summit in Gleneagles. PICTURE: Make Poverty History.
One year ago, global
poverty was the focus of the G8 summit at Gleneagles. Thirty
six million people, led by people like Nelson Mandela, Bono
and Bob Geldof called world leaders to act to overcome the
injustice of global poverty. Two billion people tuned in to
watch the Live 8 concerts, and in the UK, 250,000 people marched
across Edinburgh. In Australia, some 50,000 postcards were
sent to Canberra calling on the Australian government to be
more generous with our overseas aid. The world seemed united
to actually do something of significance.
Has reality matched the rhetoric? One year on, what has been
In March 2006, Zambia announced that basic health care would
be free to everyone in the country. 4,500 teachers would be
recruited, and new schools would be built. This was possible
because Zambia’s $5 billion debt had been cancelled.
In January 2006, the International Monetary Fund cancelled
the debts owed to it by 19 of the world’s poorest countries.
This will transform the lives of millions of people and is
a tribute to the prayer and active campaigning of individuals,
churches and development organizations. It is a real and substantial
outcome from the past 12 months.
This debt cancellation is the first step in the deal struck
by the G8 in 2005 to cancel the debts owed by up to 40 of
the world’s poorest countries. To ensure money is not
wasted through corruption, these nations have developed poverty
plans to demonstrate how the money saved will be used to help
At the same time, there is the need for more debt relief.
Heavily indebted countries like Bangladesh and Kenya remain
excluded and there is no recognition of the illegitimate origins
of much debt. For example, a country like South Africa continues
to pay back billions of dollars lent to the former apartheid
In the area of debt relief, the past year has seen genuine
progress and significant changes in the alleviation of poverty
An early encouragement was the announcement in September 2005
that the Australian government would increase our overseas
aid from $2.2 billion in 2004-05 to $4 billion in 2010. This
is an increase from 0.28 per cent of Gross National Income
(GNI) to 0.36 per cent. This is a welcomed change in the right
direction but it is still well below the UN target of 0.7
per cent- and the commitment of most developed countries.
At Gleneagles, the G8 promised to increase aid by $50 billion
annually by 2010. On the face of it, G8 aid in 2005 increased
by $21 billion or 37 per cent over its 2004 levels. It looks
like a great success. However, the reality is that 80 per
cent of this increase is made up of a one-off debt cancellation
deal for Iraq and Nigeria. This is important and necessary
for these countries, but is in fact a matter of double counting
debt cancellation as aid - an accounting trick to mask a failure
to increase the volume of real aid consistent with their Gleneagles
At the same time, the G8 made a commitment to achieving universal
access to HIV treatment by 2010. By the end of 2005, just
over 1 million HIV-infected people in poor countries accessed
treatment. A real improvement and cause for celebration. However,
there are 2.3 million children living with HIV and AIDS and
while the United Kingdom funding for AIDS equates to $A20.60
per person, Australia’s total funding again lags behind
and equates to $A4.08 per person.
With respect to aid, there is enough evidence of change to
give hope and at the same time, to motivate continued action.
The past year leaves no room for complacency, but neither
is there room for despair.
as the anti-slavery and civil-rights campaigns demanded
faithful perseverance in prayer and advocacy, so will
the Make Poverty History campaign."
A fair international trading system for poor countries is
essential to overcome global poverty. The average European
Union cow receives a daily subsidy that is greater than the
daily wage of 20 per cent of the world’s population.
The agricultural subsidies provided to European and American
farmers continue to be a stumbling block to real trade reform.
Disappointingly, after encouraging rhetoric at the G8 summit
in 2005, the World Trade Organization meetings in Hong Kong
(November 2005) and Switzerland (July 2006) failed to provide
any real commitment to change. The Europeans are blaming the
US, the US is claiming that developing nations want too much
protection for their own agriculture and developing nations
are wondering if the US and EU were ever really serious about
giving a hand to lift millions out of poverty.
One light in the darkness, is the report that the US is prepared
to cut subsidies, but not until after the Congressional elections
in November. Professor of Economics at Columbia University,
Jagdish Bhagwati, a leading trade and development economist,
suggests that President Bush is poised to save the Doha trade
negotiations. “I think he will play right after the
election. Now, in the meantime, his hand has to be strengthened.”
Certainly, Australia’s Trade Minister Mark Vaile believes
negotiations will be saved. This is an issue for continued
prayer and advocacy.
In the past year, the world has seen some progress and millions
of lives saved or changed, but the G8 nations are not on track
to deliver against the pledges they made at Gleneagles. Tim
Costello, Make Poverty History co-chair and World Vision CEO,
says the pressure was now on the G20 meeting of finance ministers
“The November meeting of the G20 is not only a meeting
of those with their hands on the levers of the world economy.
It is an opportunity to breathe new life into the fight against
poverty and we are pushing for it to be on top of the agenda."
Just as the anti-slavery and civil-rights campaigns demanded
faithful perseverance in prayer and advocacy, so will the
Make Poverty History campaign. If you want to keep informed
and know how to be involved, check out the Make Poverty History
www.makepovertyhistory.com.au or the Micah Challenge website
Rod Yule is
education officer at World Vision Australia.