Make Poverty History campaign launched

Posted: 24 January 2005

Author: John Madeley

An alliance of over 100 non-governmental organisations launched a Make Poverty History campaign in the UK in January. The NGOs range from larger development bodies, such as Oxfam, to smaller groups such as the International Community of Women Living with HIV/AIDS. They plan to put pressure on the British government in 2005 on trade, debt relief and aid issues.

Make Poverty History is part of the wider Global Call to Action Against Poverty, a world-wide alliance committed to forcing world leaders to make a breakthrough on poverty in 2005.

Campaigners believe that events in 2005 make the year a unique opportunity to raise the profile of the issues and get policy makers to act. In March 2005 the Commission for Africa is due to report. In July the UK government hosts the annual G8 summit in Scotland. Britain's Prime Minister Tony Blair has spoken of trying to get "a proper defined plan for Africa" agreed at this gathering of the world's eight most powerful leaders.

Child deaths

July is also the 20th anniversary of Live Aid. In September a special session of the United Nations General Assembly will assess progress on the promise agreed at a Millennium Summit in 2000 that poverty would be halved by 2015.

With 30,000 children a day dying from poverty-related disease - the equivalent of a silent tsunami every week - the Make Poverty History campaign is pressing for "urgent and meaningful policy change".

On trade and trade-related issues, the campaign is critical of the way that governments stress trade liberalisation, the dropping of barriers. Such liberalisation, especially in the last ten years since the advent of the World Trade Organisation (WTO), has been ruinous for many developing countries, obliging them to open up their markets at a big cost to their farmers and industry.

"The relentless pursuit of trade liberalisation, privatisation and deregulation has continued in the face of mounting evidence that they entrench and do not overcome poverty. The impact on poor people and our collective environment has been disastrous", says a Make Poverty History report.

Developing countries have come under huge pressure to conform. In 2003 the Ghanaian government was forced into a U-turn within days of saying it would protect its local poultry and rice farmers from subsidised imports. The pressure placed on Ghana by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank made the government reverse its decision and remove the safeguards that would have given local farmers a chance. Aid was at risk. Ghana's domestic rice production has now collapsed. Debt relief

The Make Poverty History alliance wants trade rules to be rewritten in favour of developing countries so they can develop and build their own industries. They point out that rich countries used trade rules to protect themselves as they developed, and that developing countries should now have that right. They are pressing for laws that stop big business profiting at the expense of local people. Control of transnational corporations - who account for two-thirds of world trade - is missing from the agenda of governments.

The tsunami disaster put debt relief back on the map. Despite grand statements from government, progress is slow. At the beginning of 2005, only $46 billion of the $375 billion of debt owed by poor countries had been cancelled - less than 12 per cent. And most of the funding for debt relief has come from aid budgets.

"Since debt relief began in 1996, aid overall has decreased by approximately the same as debt relief has gone up", says Ashok Sinha of Jubilee Debt Campaign.

Also, the list of countries eligible for debt relief - drawn up by the IMF and World Bank - omits many of the countries whose debt service payments are hindering their development efforts. These include Bangladesh, Cambodia, Haiti, Jamaica, Morocco, Nepal, Nigeria and Peru, countries who "are equally poor and heavily indebted", according to the Jubilee Debt Campaign.

Under a policy supported by western governments, countries that receive debt cancellation are subjected to stringent directives from creditors, such as instructions to privatise and liberalise, "a fundamental infringement of the right of elected governments to decide domestic policies", says Make Poverty History.

Debt relief works, says the alliance, and should come without such directives. In Benin, 54 per cent of the money saved through debt relief has been spent on health including HIV programmes. In Tanzania, debt relief has enabled the government to abolish primary school fees, leading to a 66 per cent increase in attendance.

Without strings

In Uganda the number of children at primary school has risen from 2.5 million to 6.5 million, and fewer Ugandans live in poverty - down from 56 to 38 per cent of the population.

On aid, Britain's Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown has proposed an International Finance Facility (IFF) as part of a new 'Marshall Plan' for the developing world to help revive economies. The IFF would borrow money on the international capital markets, on the basis of aid which donors have already committed. This could double aid from $55 billion to $110 billion a year, and Mr Brown speaks of another $10 - 20 billion a year to tackle TB, malaria and HIV/AIDS.

Campaigners welcome additional aid but stress that it must be without strings. Aid for some countries has already been made conditional on the privatisation of public services, even water supplies.

Supporters of the campaign are being asked to wear a white Make Poverty History arm band in 2005.

Related links:

Make Poverty History Global Call For Action Against Poverty