Fifty thousand people die every day of poverty-related causes in this world of plenty. Eight hundred million go to bed hungry. What are we doing about it, asked John Samuel in his keynote address at the World Social Forum 2005
I stand here with a deep sense of agony and anger. Because I bear bad news; news that will make you angry. Imagine someone very close to you is dead; it could have been your little child who was playing in the field, it could have been your beloved partner, mother or father. Imagine that I had to convey the news of his or her death and also tell you that he/she actually died of unnatural causes. Even before I finish the next sentence, hundreds of people, who could have been your brothers or sisters or girl-friend or children, are dead. They are forced to die. Right now 50,000 such funerals are happening across the world. One million people must be standing in graveyards attending the funerals of their loved ones as I speak. All of them will share my agony and anger.
Yes, 50,000 people die every single day due to poverty or poverty-related causes in this world of plenty. Their bones in the dirty graveyards tell thousands of tales of deprivation and deceit; stories of broken promises, stories of charred dreams, and stories of empty stomachs. Let's face it! There are at least 1 billion people who have such stories to tell you and me. They are in our own neighborhoods. Do you care? Even by conservative estimates, 800 million people go to bed hungry. Would you allow this to happen if they were your own children? Yes, 30,000 children die every single day before they reach the age of five -- just because they do not have enough food or medicine. Every 3.6 seconds another person dies of starvation. They are made to die.
At the same time the world spends $ 1 trillion a year to make bombs and guns and to prepare for war. This is obscene. This is criminal, and this is sin. Is this the kind of world we want to live in?
I come from India. I came here from the midst of the tsunami. I do not have words to describe it. I can still feel the stench of death and destruction that I have seen in different countries of Asia. People across the world showed solidarity by extending all the support they could. Can we show such solidarity to the millions dying in Africa, Asia and Latin America? Nature has an ironic way of dealing with people. In this tsunami, the rich from rich countries holidaying in the five-star resorts of Thailand and the fisherfolk of Sri Lanka died. Nature did not discriminate on the basis of caste or class or gender. We do.
But a man-made - and I mean man-made, not woman-made -- tsunami is happening every single day in this world: women are raped, children are killed, and 6,000 people are allowed to die every day of HIV/AIDS. Poverty has colour, gender and smell: the smell of tears and blood. They are broken people -- dalits, women, Africans... How can we afford to keep quiet? The media is too busy to notice such tsunamis in Congo or Rwanda or in Sub-Saharan countries. The world's most powerful countries are in the business of making, selling and dropping bombs and parachuting 'freedom' -- wholesale and retail. When poverty is exported wholesale from the ports of rich countries to Africa, Asia and Latin America, what are we supposed to do? Watch CNN and have our dinner and go to sleep?
The Global Call to Action Against Poverty is a wake-up call; a wake-up call to people like you and me. Awake from your slumber and act: act for justice, peace and rights. It is also a wake-up call to the presidents and prime ministers to tell them they are sleeping on their jobs. The Global Call to Action Against Poverty is one of the largest coalitions of organisations working across the world; from the grassroots and community-based organisations to international trade unions like ICFTU, international organisations like Social Watch, ActionAid International, Oxfam, CIDSE, World Vision, CIVICUS, DAWN, AWID, MWUANGE and many other regional and national organisations in Africa, Asia and the Americas. Global Call to Action Against Poverty has emerged through various campaigns like the Make Poverty History campaign in the UK, Global Campaign on Education, Trade Justice Movement, and from the experience of the Jubilee campaign against unjust debt. Around 100 people involved in these campaigns met in Johannesburg in September 2004 to build a global platform for joint action, the Global Call to Action Against Poverty. Hundreds of participating organisations and key campaigns across the world have agreed to work together on four key issues:
- Trade justice: Rich nations must stop dumping and stop the unjust agricultural subsidies that deprive millions of people in poor countries of their lives and livelihood. The unjust trade regime of WTO and unequal trade rules pushed onto countries in Africa, Latin America and Asia must be stopped.
- Debt cancellation. Every day poor countries are paying rich countries and their cronies like the IMF and World Bank more than 100 million US dollars. This must be stopped: cancel the unjust debt immediately.
- A major increase in the quality and quantity of aid, without unjust conditional ties: The agreed upon 7% of GNP for development by the rich countries.
- National and international efforts to eliminate poverty from the face of the earth and to achieve the Millennium Declaration and Development Goals in a democratic and accountable way. Stop the enforced liberalisation and privatisation of public services like water, health and education.
There will be peoples' action from New Delhi to New York, Lanka to London, Brazil to Belgium and Mombassa to Melbourne, in hundreds of thousands of villages and cities across the world. Every single person anywhere in the world can join this movement by a single act -- by wearing a white band. By wearing the white band you are in solidarity with a global movement to fight poverty. By wearing a white band you are committed to questioning injustice; by wearing a white band you are saying that you would like to make a difference and that you support this global movement. The white band is a symbol of solidarity, justice and peace.
Together we can move mountains: mountains of poverty and deprivation, mountains of debt, mountains of dumped materials in our ports. Mountains of injustice and inequity that stand in the way of freedom: freedom from fear and freedom from want!
In 2005, you and I will have major opportunities to tell the world that we do care, and we will ask uncomfortable questions. We will ask how come 1 trillion dollars are spent every day to make bombs and to prepare for war and yet you do not have a few billions to eliminate poverty? The rich countries and the big, fat and unaccountable MNCs, the undemocratic and unaccountable institutions like the IMF and World Bank must change! The policymakers in Washington and Brussels seem to be keener to eliminate poor people than to eliminate poverty. This cheating cannot go on. We stand in the dirty graveyard of broken promises, promises made without blinking at summits at Rio, Vienna, Beijing.... So when 189 heads of state met at the dawn of this millennium in September 2000 to adopt the Millennium Declaration and then the United Nations came out with eight clear Millennium Development Goals, the poor and marginalised were not excited, because of the unbeatable track record of governments in breaking promises.
Actually, the Millennium Development Goals may not be the best; may not be good enough; may not be the magic bullets that would erase injustice and inequality. However, at a time when poverty is pushed under the carpet, at a time when the security of the rich and powerful dominates the scene and a seat in the Security Council becomes the preoccupation of many countries, even the MDGs acquire unprecedented significance. Because there is nothing else on poverty and rights in the international policy priorities. In the context of rising neo-conservatism and unilateralism, the war on terror has taken the front seat and poverty is conveniently put on the backburner! We need to ensure that these promises are not broken; we need to ensure that women's rights are part and parcel of any development agenda.
In 2005, there will be three milestones that will impact the issue of poverty in the world: the G8 meeting on July 5 in UK, the Millennium+5 summit of the UN in September and the WTO ministerial from December 13-18 in Hong Kong. Millions of people across the world will be wearing white bands to express solidarity and join the movement for justice in July, September and during the WTO ministerial in December. There will be concerted efforts across the world in 2005.
Poverty is not a historical accident. Poverty is created every day by unequal and unjust power relations between and within countries and societies. Poverty is created by the cynical few or the rich and powerful countries which are in the business of extracting resources and exploiting natural resources in the poorer countries of the world.
We still dare to dream: of a world without poverty where every person can live with freedom and dignity. But we have to make the world move in that direction. Because policymakers cannot sit in an ivory tower forever; they will have to come to the street; they have to listen to the millions. Wake up friends! Join the movement and make a difference.
As Martin Luther King said, injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. The biggest terror in the world is the tyranny of an empty stomach. How can we even think of the security of the few when millions of people live with the tyranny of empty stomachs?
Liberty is not the prerogative of the few. Equality is not something that will come through television channels and empty promises. Bombs cannot bring freedom and democracy whether in Iraq or elsewhere. And we will not keep quiet till the last person on the face of the earth can realise his or her sense of freedom: freedom from fear and freedom from want. We will not allow this injustice to go on. If we quit we will be part of the criminal culture of silence in the massacre of thousands every day. We demand accountability, we demand justice, and we will assert these rights. On behalf of this emerging global movement I call upon each and every one of you and all organisations to join the movement to end poverty now. Let us Make Change Happen.
(The Global Call to Action Against Poverty was launched on January 27 during the World Social Forum in Porto Alegre. This is the transcript of the speech delivered by John Samuel, one of the founding members of the Global Call to Action Against Poverty, International Director of ActionAid International, and editor of this website, InfoChange News & Features. President LuA-s Incio Lula da Silva of Brazil and more than ten cabinet ministers of Brazil attended the launch.)