The Year of Opportunity
by Duncan Parker
THE call was clear, the call was loud, the call was specifically for this generation of humans sharing this earth. Millions of people heard the call in 2005. Millions understood it. It all made sense – ‘Drop the Debt’, make trade fair and give more and better aid!
Nelson Mandela challenged the world’s people to be ‘that great generation’ who would make poverty history. Bob Geldof got the secular world on the move with the Live8 concerts. ‘Well tonight thank God it’s them, instead of you,’ sang rock star Bono, stirring even the least motivated people to acknowledge that ‘them’ – the world’s poorest people – have a bad deal and that ‘we’, the people who have so much, should do something.
It was the year eight million people in the UK wore a white wristband showing their solidarity with the Make Poverty History movement. The year three million children asked Prime Minister Tony Blair to ‘send my friend [in the developing world] to school’. It was the year the UK hosted the G8 meeting of world leaders, the 20th anniversary of the original Live Aid concert, the year of the Africa Commission, the year the UN was to review the millennium development goals, the year of the World Trade Organisation meeting in Hong Kong, the year of the UK presidency of the EU. It was the year many people started to believe that making poverty history was a realistic aim.
So, the theory was great, but what was actually achieved?
More and Better Aid
The Make Poverty History campaign called for donor countries to deliver immediately at least US$50 billion more in aid per year, and to make that aid work more effectively for poor people.
The G8 summit promised an extra $48 billion a year by 2010. This is a promise that ordinary people have to remain in touch with to make their governments accountable. If governments remain loyal to their promises and do so without trying to make economic conditions that favour their own economies, millions of lives could be saved and millions more improved.
The general feeling among campaigners is that the rate of progress on this issue remains too slow and the clarity on economic conditions tied to the aid remains a big issue.
What about The Salvation Army? Well last year it received the results of a global evaluation to look at the quality of the aid it delivers through community development and poverty alleviation work (see All the World, October-December 2005). The results were good.
Overall, when aid is delivered well it not only changes the basic level of people’s lives but also can have a huge impact on building God’s Kingdom and church growth. However, The Salvation Army also realises the need to upscale to meet the ever-present needs of the poor. It must find new and creative ways to enable community development to happen and, most importantly, find ways that enable sustainable development so the benefits are long lasting.
The Make Poverty History campaign called for all the unpayable debts of the world’s poorest countries to be cancelled. Immediately. No arguing. And it should be done in a transparent way that is fair and just.
Left: a boy from Tanzania who has benefited from Salvation Army projects
An Indian woman helped by The Salvation Army
Salvationists make their voices heard at the Mass Lobby for Trade Justice, London, UK
A beneficiary of a Salvation Army microcredit scheme in Tanzania
A young UK Salvationist at the Mass Lobby for Trade Justice
Photos Copyright The Salvation Army and Duncan Parker/ Howard Dalziel/ Graeme Hodge
The G8 announced a debt deal that met about 10 per cent of the amount needed to enable developing countries to meet the United Nation’s Millennium Development Goals. There are concerns that damaging economic conditions are still attached to the debt relief and no fair and just system has been devised for ensuring progress towards a fairer world system.
The Salvation Army has witnessed how debt relief on a national scale can have a huge impact on local communities – making life better for the poorest of people. Countries can start to offer more free primary education or national immunisation programmes. This removes the dilemma for many parents of whether to spend what little they have on food or education. They have opportunity to use their sparse resources in other ways.
The Make Poverty History campaign called for action to ensure that governments in poor countries can choose the best trade solutions to help their efforts to end poverty and protect the environment. It called for an end to the export subsidies and other handouts that ruin local livelihoods and industry in the developing world and asked for a change in the law that would stop big businesses profiting at the expense of people and the environment.
The year started well, with the UK Government taking a lead and changing some of the language it used in talking about global trade. There were positive changes in policy on conditions attached to trade deals.
Campaigners looked to December’s trade talks in Hong Kong for evidence of an implementation plan and agreement. However, reality sank in and it seems that, despite having the ability to correct gross imbalances in world trade, the UK, EU partners and the USA favoured their own interests over the world’s poor. Issues related to the dumping of the world’s industrial waste and liberalisation of essential services such as water, health and education were all discussed – but to the detriment of developing countries.
The Salvation Army works with people all over the world who are damaged by decisions such as this. Women in Zambia, for example, have seen their local businesses destroyed because of European countries shipping food excesses into their local economy at unsustainable cheaper prices than they can produce locally so increasing the spiralling debt. It seems incredible that the call from millions to end this injustice has been ignored.
So was 2005, this momentous year of hope for the world’s poor, a success or a failure? It was probably both. There is little doubt, however, that – thanks at least in part to the Make Poverty History campaign – governments made decisions in favour of the world’s poor. Millions of lives that would have been lost will now be saved – if, that is, the aid and debt promises are followed through.
Poverty has not been made history in 2005 but that was never really expected. The campaign wanted to put three issues which play a massive part in making – and keeping – people poor (trade, aid and debt) on the political agenda and in the public arena. This was certainly achieved.
Perhaps the greatest achievement, following years when violent protests by extremists became the usual view of campaigning, was that the Make Poverty History campaign gave birth to an army of ordinary people, from various political and religious beliefs, who were prepared and willing to fight for justice on behalf of the most vulnerable people. What is more, they called for this justice in a peaceful, democratic manner that had a dramatic effect on the way the world will operate in future years.
Poverty can be consigned to history and the ordinary, caring, thinking people of the world have seen they can make a difference. The Global Call to Action Against Poverty will continue to campaign on these issues and, just as importantly, The Salvation Army will continue to deliver more and better aid in locally appropriate and sustainable ways, doing its own bit for the world’s poorest people.
Duncan Parker is Director of International Development (UK) for the Salvation Army’s UK Territory with the Republic of Ireland