According to a BBC Report, some twenty million people in four African countries run the risk of death from starvation due mainly to political instability and conflicts. Of these, 1.5 million are children. These four countries are Yemen, South Sudan, Somalia and Nigeria. And while millions ae dying from starvation, billions of dollars are spent on military hardware and on weapons of mass destruction. Millions of children are dying from preventable illness and millions more do not know what it means to have a proper education.
Something is fundamentally wrong with a world in which so many people live in a state of abject poverty while at the same time a small proportion of the world’s population wallow in luxury. The late Dr Cheddi Jagan could not have put it better any better when he said that it is indeed paradoxical that while one part of the world is dying from not having enough to eat, another part, albeit small, is also dying from overconsumption, or having too much to eat. The solution, he said, is for a more equitable distribution of the world’s resources which are more than enough to provide for every human being to enjoy a good and satisfying life.
From the perspective of developing countries such as Guyana, the persistence of poverty, hunger, unemployment, drug trafficking, crime, disease and insecurity makes it imperative for a call for action by the world community to come up with workable solutions to the myriad problems facing humanity. Caribbean countries including Guyana are still to recover from what could be termed the Caribbean dilemma, which began as colonisation, colonialism, neo-colonialism and economic dependence. These have been further compounded by high and unsustainable foreign debts and consequential externally-driven structural adjustment programmes. The manipulation of capital markets and interest rates, controls over access to development assistance and the exploitation of raw material by the industrialized powers made a case for special treatment by the developed world to provide developmental assistance for the afflicted countries.
It is not out of a lack of awareness by the bigger powers that the challenges to our underdevelopment still persist. Several summits involving world leaders were held from time to time to come up with strategies to alleviate poverty but with little impact. The Millennium Development Goals which were established by world leaders aimed at poverty alleviation over two decades ago have not resulted in any measureable improvement in the quality of life for the majority of the world’s poor, the majority of whom are condemned to survive on an average income of less than two US dollars a day.
Then there was the Copenhagen Summit involving heads of government in March 1995 which had as its main focus the alleviation of poverty, expansion of productive employment and enhancement of social integration. Over two decades have elapsed since then and the world is nowhere towards social integration. According to the United Nations, the level of social integration and the number of people who now face starvation are worse than since the 1940s.
Solutions to the problems identified must take into account a number of fundamental flaws in the structure of the global economy which is highly skewed in favour of the richer nations. Poverty, unemployment and deficiencies in the social fabric are inextricably linked to a vicious cycle in which the poor and vulnerable groups continue to be marginalized which includes a high proportion of our women.
The fact of the matter is that there is no automatic correlation between economic growth and human development. The market mechanism has proven to be highly inadequate in terms of distributive equity and has in fact only resulted in expanding income gaps between the rich and the poor.
What is needed is growth with equity and a reappraisal of existing developmental models which seem to put heavy emphasis on the market without placing enough thought on the whole concept of distributive justice. This was what the Copenhagen Summit was supposed to address but it had very limited success. Among these were access to financial assistance for the poor using the Grameen Bank of Bangladesh as a model. The model provides for easy and soft credits for micro-enterprise development where incremental injections of credit can create a sea change for persons who would not otherwise have access to credit facilities.
There is need also for a closer and a more creative relationship between government and the private sector to locate investment projects in rural areas which can take employment to the people, rather than having labour gravitating to urban areas.
There is admittedly no silver bullet when it comes to poverty alleviation. But at the very least, some basic steps could be taken at the global and national levels which must include cuts to military spending. A three per cent cut in military spending globally could result in a saving of over US$500 billion which could go a far way in sending our children to school and providing basic medical care. A global tax on energy of $1 on each barrel of oil could yield annually over $60 billion, and taxing global speculative foreign exchange movement at a modest 0.05% could yield another US$150 billion per year. Nobel Peace Prize winner, economist James Tobin recommended years ago that a 0.5 % could yield the astronomical sum of US$1500 billion annually!
The money is there to finance global development and end poverty, but what is lacking is the political will to take drastic and immediate action on the part of policy-makers. This is what the New Global Human Order, brainchild of Guyana’s Dr Cheddi Jagan is seeking to address at the level of the United Nations. It is forward-looking and practical and hopefully if implemented could impact positively on human development and progress.