For those unable to attend Netroots Nation in Pittsburgh earlier this month, here is the video of the UN Dispatch panel: Global Solutions for Global Poverty. I moderated, with commentary from OXFAM's Ray Offenheiser, Anita Sharma of the UN Millennium Campaign, Ginny Simmons from ONE and Matthew Yglesias. Let us know what you think.
From Chris Scott
Hi there. Mark is up on stage moderating. I'm Chris Scott, from ONE, in the audience at the Netroots Nation panel. I'll be live blogging the session, which is set to begin momentarily.
Ray Offenheiser kicks off the panel with the premise that "poverty is not news." All of us who work on these issues day in and day out have to confront the fact that poverty is rarely news until terrorism strikes. Unfortunately, inequality is the status quo.
He goes on to explain that poverty is not about a lack of things-- we live in a world of plenty. It's about access and exclusion. For instance, in the US obesity is epidemic while millions of others go hungry around the world. "Poverty is about powerlessness."
Ray goes on to discuss the successes in fighting global poverty, arguing against thinking of confronting this challenge as "charity." He uses Ghana as an example of a country at a crossroads. Will Ghana use funds from oil production for health, education?
Says the greatest challenge facing our generation is climate change. The poorest people in the world are being hit first and hit hardest. Every year millions are one bad crop away from famine. He explains that whatever is decided at Copenhagen in December, the world's poorest need to be taken into account.
We have the tools to fight global poverty-- it's up to us to use them. Organizations like Oxfam seek to provide that. Ray ends by asking the audience to join all of the panel's campaigns.
Anita Sharma speaks next and begins by really reiterating Ray's point that ending extreme poverty is an attainable goal. She goes on to describe the Millennium Development Goals as a framework, underscoring the eighth goal: the promise of developed countries to increase development assistance and deliver more effective aid. In return, poor countries promise to implement aid effectively, increase transparency and accountability. All of this serves to create a real partnership.
Anita moves on to what is happening in the US politically and policy-wise. Cites Obama's assurance that the Millennium Development Goals should become America's goals. Anita describes Secretary Clinton and Ambassador Rice as "torch bearers" for the MDG's. However, trade and investment are drying up.
Tells audience there are concrete ways to get in touch with our elected officials around important legislation that supports the MDG's. Lists current and upcoming fights: climate change, food security initiative, economic crisis. All of which will be addressed at upcoming G20 Summit in Pittsburgh.
Ends with a push for Stand Up Against Poverty now entering it's 4th year. This year's Stand Up event will take place on October 16-18. It's extremely important that we create a movement.
Ginny Simmons from ONE is up next. She runs through specifically ONE's online efforts around fighting extreme poverty and global disease.
Among ONE's online accomplishments, she names the On the Record campaign during the 2008 US presidential race in which ONE actively sought "on the record" commitments from nearly all presidentail candidates about what they would do to combat global poverty as president. She also discusses ONE's organizing around the August congressional recess as a very successful example of online/offline mobilizing.
For ONE, the internet is a key organizing and mobilizing tool.
Matt Yglesias takes the podium and begins by speaking about the genesis and evolution of progressive netroots. Primarily, what are progressives' idea of the United States' role in the world? In the future, looking back at America's legacy, wouldn't it be great to say one of our key accomplishments was eliminating global poverty?
Climate change is obviously a hot button topic in America, but lost in the mix is the immense impact climate change takes on the world's poor. But the netroots can play a big role in shifting this kind of conversation. Echoes Ray's earlier point that global poverty doesn't get a ton of attention in the US, but again, netroots is important in shifting the focus from viewing the topic in a purely military lens.
Question & Answer session begins.
Ray fields a question about nonprofit microfinance's role in uplifting people in poverty. Ray cites Grameen Bank as an innovative example of some of the work being done right now around microfinance. He also makes a case for the role that microfinancing can play in combatting some of the threats of climate change.
Anita discusses some bills supporting MDG's including the Global Poverty Act introduced by Representative Adam Smith. Suggests audience go to Oxfam's and ONE's site to learn about and track this legislation, but also stresses the importance around contacting and meeting with our elected officials.
Ray ends the discussion by stressing the need for building up civilian personnel to deliver development assistance in poor countries. He says that the State Department needs funding that, if not equal to, should at least be proportionate to that of the Defense Department, and passionately calls on the netroots to push for legislation that can legitimately end global poverty.
And that's a wrap. Many thanks to Mark for allowing me to hijack his blog and write about this excellent panel.
I'm not sure how I feel about this...
The French government is considering introducing a special lottery for Africa to supplement development aid.
"It could be bingo for Africa, or a lotto," said the French Secretary of State for Co-operation, Alain Joyandet.
It depends what you think of gambling, and what you think of development aid, I suppose. On the former, I guess that old folks' bingo money might as well be going to a good cause, though it would pretty much undo the benefit if obsessive lotto players are being impoverished to help un-impoverish Africans. On the development side...well, I'd be interested to see what Chris Blattman and Bill Easterly would think of this scheme...
(image from flickr user klynslis under a Creative Commons license)
The 2009 MDG Report (pdf), leading into the 2010 MDG review conference that represents the last major recommitment before 2015, is both promising and disturbing. Actual progress has been made, but the economic crisis is cutting severely into those gains, and, at this pace, the world will fall far short of achieving the Goals.
Overall, the number of people living in poverty (under $1.25 a day) had dropped by 400 million from 1990 to 2005 (1.4 billion) despite the growth in world population, an astounding number that, on its own, is proof that the Goals are achievable. However, the economic crisis chiseled away at that progress, and 90 million more people are expected to be added back to those rolls this year. Success in reducing hunger worldwide is likewise being reversed.
Antonio Maria Costa, executive director of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, said that until the onset of the financial crisis in 2008, the banking system "has been very active and clean," forcing organized crime to return to cash transactions.
"That was basically the situation until the financial crisis, which started as a liquidity problem, an unwillingness of banks to (engage in) inter-banking transactions," Costa said. "So you have on the one hand a supply, resources, cash from organized crime and you have banks very (that are) illiquid and striving for cash. Well, that is really license for organized crime to penetrate into the financial system."
And as with much of the rest of the economy, this dynamic is profiting the few at the expense of the many. Costa made his rather canny financial analysis during the launch of a program bringing multiple UN agencies together to combat West Africa's rampant trafficking problems, which span from drugs to toxic wastes (?!?). The UN's political, economic, and peacekeeping offices are all involved in the effort, which is placing an emphasis on the post-conflict issues that trouble much of the region.
It's not surprising that William Easterly has pronounced the Millennium Development Goals dead. S-G Ban Ki-moon himself cautions that "progress has been too slow for most of the targets to be met by 2015." What might be more surprising is that Easterly calls the activism surrounding the MDGs "a success in global consciousness-raising." Yet not without flaws -- his post on the subject concentrates on the inability of the MDG movement to identify an appropriate target, reason, and policy prescription (the WHO, WHY, and WHAT, in Easterly's terms) for their activism.
Some of Easterly's points are certainly well made -- it is difficult, for instance, to pinpoint an actor to blame for the MDGs' struggles, or who needs to be galvanized to action, when 189 countries have signed on to the agreement. But how could the MDGs have emerged in any other way, least of all without attracting the label of "colonialism" had they been prerogatives solely of the developing world? The MDGs were set up to be difficult to achieve -- that they set specific goals should not be reason to qualify the campaign to reach them as a failure "on its own terms."
Furthermore, the MDGs have not been utter failures. They have achieved tangible benefits for millions of human beings, in alleviating poverty, reducing disease, increasing access to education, improving women's health. That they have not reached their intended milestones, or that the global economic crisis has put a further damper in their prospects, is not a reason to abandon them. So while their certainly is reason to investigate aid agencies, and to ensure that funds all reach the poor whom they are supposed to reach, I disagree with Easterly that we shouldn't "waste any more effort" in pushing countries to meet their commitments by 2015 and in coming as close to achieving the MDGs as possible. To fall short of that would be unfair both to the poor and to our own principles.
It's often been said that the global economic crisis has hit the developing world the hardest. I've always taken that to be sort of a given, but the new 2009 Millennium Development Goals report, just released, is one of the first documents I've seen to actually quantify the toll that the current economic downturn has taken on the world's poor.
The report shows that significant gains had been made since the 2000 Millennium Declaration to reduce the number of people around the world living in abject poverty. Over the course of the last year, however, progress made over the last decade has slowed--and even reversed.
Major advances in the fight against extreme poverty from 1990 to 2005, for example, are likely to have stalled. During that period, the number of people living on less than $1.25 a day decreased from 1.8 billion to 1.4 billion. In 2009, an estimated 55 million to 90 million more people will be living in extreme poverty than anticipated before the crisis.
Likewise, the encouraging trend in the eradication of hunger since the early 1990s was reversed in 2008, largely due to higher food prices. The prevalence of hunger in the developing regions is now on the rise, from 16 per cent in 2006 to 17 per cent in 2008. A decrease in international food prices in the second half of 2008 has failed to translate into more affordable food for most people around the world.
One of the MDGs is to halt the spread of AIDS and increase access to treatment. A second report out today, by UNAIDS and the World Bank, shows how the economic crisis is threatening the global fight against AIDS. Here is UN Spokesperson Michelle Montas describing the report's findings.
Poverty tourism is getting a lot of attention lately. It’s not a new idea; we’ve been seeing slum tours for a decade now. People have a natural desire to see how the other half lives, and these tours make it happen in a safe and easy way. Opinion has always been mixed on where it’s exploitation, a lesson in empathy, or irrelevant.
A recent article Huffington Post, a truly breathtaking rant from Senegalese entrepreneur Magatte Wade, has brought poverty tours back to prominence and controversy. She thinks that the Millennium Villages Project – an experimental program developed by development economist Jeffery Sachs - is ill-conceived and that the tourism there treats Africans like zoo animals:
“…American professors spending tens of millions of dollars telling villagers how they should live their lives, so that American tourists can go and watch the new feature at the zoo in which the African natives are doing just as they are told by the American experts -- with the careful warning to the tourists not to contaminate the zoo display by feeding the animals…”
This was followed by several posts on Bill Easterly’s Aid Watch blog, where the tour operator responded to Wade’s criticism. The tour operator pointed out, among other things, that the brochure language that Wade was angry about had been written by inhabitants of the village in question, not by outsiders. That does put a damper on the zoo animals argument.
Today, the Christian Science Monitor weighed in, with a slightly broader look at poverty tourism as a whole. They quote Josh Ruxin, of the Millennium Villages Project, who argues that having visitors arrive as an organized tour alters the power balance in a positive way. “Tourism shows, 'This community has value, for which we will be paid.' It's a totally different way of thinking...”
My own take: I agree with Josh Ruxin. Shifting modes from gawking guests to paying tourists makes it clear to host communities that they possess things of value. Tourists in poor places are inevitable; well-meaning people want to learn about the lives of the poor, and the less thoughtful just want to gawk. Corralling those visitors into a tour uses their energy in a useful way.
The BBC's Laura Trevelyan offers a very good rundown of the (h/t UK Foreign Office) three day summit at the United Nations General Assembly on how the financial crisis is affecting poor countries.