Thursday, September 29, 2005

[Australia] One in four South Australians lives in poverty: report

From ABC Online

A report launched today says that almost one in four South Australians lives in poverty.

The South Australian Council of Social Service (SACOSS) released its 10-year blueprint for the elimination of poverty.

Among the targets are halving the number of long-term unemployed, boosting preventative health care funding and cutting the cost of housing.

SACOSS executive director Karen Grogan says the targets are ambitious but achievable.

"There are a number of cynics around who'll tell you that we'll always have poverty," she said.

"I think that's a fairly negative place to start. We need to start from a point where we say this isn't the society that we want for our children to grow up in, for ourselves to live in."

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

[UK] One in nine of city population 'living in poverty' says study

From The Scotsman

GARETH EDWARDS

MORE than 50,000 people in Edinburgh are living in poverty and relying on benefits, new figures reveal.

And 9000 of the city's residents are classed as living in Scotland's most deprived areas, which include parts of Craigmillar, Muirhouse and Pennywell.

The sobering figures come from a new study into deprivation in Scotland, which looks at the nation's most impoverished areas and examines why people are trapped in the cycle of poverty.

Looking at health, education, housing and employment, it has been drawn up to help the Scottish Executive work out where investment needs to be channelled to tackle social problems.

The study found that in Edinburgh, 52,821 people were classed as income deprived - 11 per cent of the city's total population.

And 24 areas of the city, with populations of around 750 people, were classed as being in the most deprived five per cent areas of Scotland.

Craigmillar was highlighted as the most deprived area in Edinburgh - the 19th most deprived in Scotland - and it was estimated that at least half of the people there were out of work.

David Walker, secretary of Craigmillar Community Council,

said: "I can imagine Craigmillar will be fairly high up the list when it comes to low levels of income. The last analysis we saw put the average earnings of residents in Craigmillar at £10,000 a year, so we're well aware of this problem.

"It is becoming increasingly difficult for families on low income to take that step up."

The Social Focus on Deprived Areas report divided Scotland into population "pockets" of around 750 people, and gathers figures on education, the NHS and the multiple index of deprivation.

The study gathered information about families who are on benefits, including income support, jobseeker's allowances and working families tax credits.

It used the information to find which areas of Scotland were classed as in the most deprived five per cent.

In total, 9256 people lived in the city's - and Scotland's - worst areas, including Craigmillar Castle Loan, Muirhouse Crescent, and Niddrie Mains.

Across Scotland, household incomes are increasing, but there is no indication that the gap between rich and poor is closing.

The analysis showed that people living in the 15 per cent most deprived areas of Scotland were four times more likely to be receiving income support than those living in the rest of Scotland.

More than 40 per cent of children in these areas were dependent on someone in the home receiving income support, compared with just ten per cent of children in the rest of Scotland.

Christina Cran, spokeswoman for Shelter Scotland, the housing and homeless charity, said: "The deprivation and poverty that exists in Scotland is often hidden from sight.

"Shelter staff see each day the effects that a mixture of issues such as debt, bad housing and insecurity can have on people's lives. It can bring about ill health, a lack of self-esteem and a cycle of homelessness that can be hard to break.

"Shelter hopes the new research from the Executive is used to bring about real change to people's lives in Scotland's life by investing support and finance into areas of multiple deprivation."

Communities Minister Malcolm Chisholm said: "We are absolutely committed to tackling the problems of our most deprived communities. It is essential we know the full picture so that resources can be targeted where they are needed. This detailed analysis gives us that."

Lord Provost Lesley Hinds said: "While Edinburgh has a strong economy, we are aware that there are also deprived areas."

[Malaysia] Seven States wallowing in poverty, says UN rep

From The New Straits Times

KUALA LUMPUR, Sept 27:

Malaysians in Kuala Lumpur, Selangor and Penang enjoy living standards similar to those of developed countries, but people in Kelantan and Sabah face a level of poverty more associated with the poorest African countries, a UN official said here today.
Many in Kelantan and Sabah, along with Terengganu, Sarawak, Kedah, Perlis and Perak, still have to make do with sub-standard education and health services.

This sobering fact was revealed by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in a dialogue with MPs at the Dewan Rakyat on Malaysia’s progress towards achieving the Millennium Development Goals.

UNDP resident representative for Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei Dr Richard Leete said the Government had to focus its efforts on improving living standards in these seven States and ensuring they are not left out of the mainstream of development.

Some of the reasons for the destitution, Leete said, are geographical remoteness and the huge amount of resources needed to develop those areas.

"The Government must target its policies more effectively in these States, as they recorded poverty levels well above five per cent in 2002," Leete said in a presentation to Barisan Nasional and Opposition MPs.

Present were Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Datuk Seri Nazri Aziz, Backbenchers Club chairman Datuk Shahrir Samad and House Opposition leader Lim Kit Siang.

Leete also said Malaysia would gain an additional one million workers in the labour force if it developed better maternity benefits.

"Malaysian women are highly educated but they drop out of the workforce once they get pregnant. This is an extraordinary waste of talent," he said.

Monday, September 26, 2005

[US] Hurricane Aftermath Sparks Debate Over Poverty

From The Voice of America

By Jim Malone

As citizens along the U.S. Gulf of Mexico coast continue to struggle with the impact of Hurricanes Rita and Katrina, a wider national debate has begun over the plight of the poor affected by the storms.

In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, the nation was faced with gripping television pictures from New Orleans of thousands of people, mostly poor and African-American, struggling to evacuate, and to stay alive in their flooded city.

Those images have sparked the beginning of a renewed national debate on the plight of the poor in America's cities, and what should be done about it.

Barbara Bergmann, an expert on economics and poverty at the American University in Washington, DC, says "Well, what you saw were a lot of unfortunate people who had no way to get out of the city, and who were largely abandoned, because people had not thought about how they might get out of the city."

Federal, state and local governments were widely criticized for not doing enough to help poor blacks get out of New Orleans, after authorities ordered a mandatory evacuation. Many people had no means of transportation.

Some African-American leaders were especially concerned.

Congressman Elijah Cummings, a Democrat from Maryland and a former chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, says "We cannot allow it to be said by history that the difference between those who lived and those who died in this great storm and flood of 2005 was nothing more than poverty, age or skin color."

Anti-poverty activists say the images in the wake of Katrina have helped to spotlight the plight of the poor, which they say has been overlooked by politicians and the news media in recent years.

A recent report from the government Census Bureau said poverty continued to rise last year, and that nearly 13 percent of Americans now fall below the poverty line. Two years ago, the government defined the poverty line as roughly a $9,000 annual income for an individual and about $19,000 for a family of four.

"This is the other America that we do not see that often," noted Toni-Michelle Travis, an expert on poverty and race at George Mason University in Virginia. "This is the urban poor, and they are struggling. They are really trying to make a living, have a family and a home, and it is very difficult for them. I think something like 36 million [people] are still below the poverty level."

President Bush took note of the issue during a recent speech to the nation from New Orleans.

"As all of us saw on television, there is also some deep, persistent poverty in this region, as well," said Mr. Bush. "That poverty has roots in a history of racial discrimination, which cut off generations from the opportunity of America. We have a duty to confront this poverty with bold action. So, let us restore all that we have cherished from yesterday, and let us rise above the legacy of inequality."

American University Professor Barbara Bergmann says it is important for the president and Congress to get engaged in the poverty debate.

"One certainly should be encouraged by the fact that President Bush, in his address to the nation from New Orleans, did talk about poverty and the heritage of racism. Again, the question is how long this attention is going to last and how long this sympathy is going to last," she said.

Opposition Democrats are challenging the president and his Republican supporters in the Congress to back up his interest with firm commitments of funding.

Illinois Democrat Barack Obama, the only African-American in the U.S. Senate, spoke on the CBS program, Face the Nation.

"The question now is whether, in fact, there has been an awakening on his part and his administration to that intersection of race and poverty, and whether we are finally going to see the compassion in the 'compassionate conservatism' that he announced when he was first running for president," he said.

Republicans agree the Katrina disaster exposed long-standing problems of the poor in America's cities. But they prefer a bigger role for the private sector in long-term recovery efforts. They also warn Democrats not to exploit the issue for political gain.

"The American people are really kind of tired of this finger-pointing issue and politics all the time," said Illinois Congressman Dennis Hastert, the Republican speaker of the House of Representatives. "I think it would behoove all of us to work together to try to find the answers."

Some experts question how long the poverty debate will last, given the American public's notoriously short attention span.

But George Mason University analyst Toni-Michelle Travis predicts it could last longer than some predict.

"Well, I think we are going to get a ripple effect," she said. "As these people go into other communities, and try to restructure their lives, try to get going again, other communities are going to say, 'this is a burden on our services,' particularly the Texas cities where large numbers are. And, I think, then, we are going to have to discuss again what services can we make available to people at the low end of the economic scale, as well as everyone displaced by the hurricane."

The poverty debate is likely to play out next in Congress, which has the responsibility to fund the federal relief efforts in the wake of the hurricanes.

[Middle East] British treasurer Brown to help lower poverty amongst Palestinians

British Treasurer Gordon Brown announced that he would investigate ways in which to rebuild Palestinian infrastructure, saying that easing Palestinian unemployment and poverty would help bring stability to the Middle East.

The poor state of the Palestinian economy presents a serious challenge to the Palestinian Authority following Israel's withdrawal from the Gaza Strip.

Brown, seen as the most likely successor to British Prime Minister Tony Blair, added that he would make a visit to the region to do so.

He added that he had discussed the matter with the World Bank, and the European Investment Bank, with which he had already outlined proposals for to offer guarantee loans for those wishing to invest in the region.

According to the Guardian, Brown also discussed the matter with the Israeli ministry of finance. Brown told reporters regarding the talks, "I hope we can make a contribution that will recognize that a strong and fair economy can lower the amount of violence and underpin development".

He added that the Palestinian Authority area needed to grow by "10 percent a year for many years if we are going to tackle unemployment and poverty."

Mazen Sinnukrot, the Palestinian Authority's National Economy Minister, hopes to attract around 1.8 to 2.4 billion dollars annually in private investment annually for the first three years after Israel's pullout from Gaza.

The Palestinian Authority plans to privatize all government-owned enterprises beginning in 2006 as part of its economic redevelopment plan. Industries included in the proposed project include the Gaza airport, the national cement and oil companies and a planned Mediterranean port.

Friday, September 23, 2005

[US] Barbara Lee introduces bill to end poverty

From San Francisco Bay View

Says Katrina highlights the 'Two Americas'

by Nathan Britton

Washington - In the wake of the devastation of hurricane Katrina, Rep. Barbara Lee introduced a bill calling on the Bush administration to create a poverty eradication plan.

"If anyone had any doubts that there are two Americas, hurricane Katrina and our government's shameful response to it have made the division clear for all to see," said Lee. "The brutal truth is that people died in New Orleans because they were poor, and the indifference to the most vulnerable among us is not isolated to this tragedy, it is part and parcel of a systemic problem that our nation must overcome."

Nearly 30 percent of the population of New Orleans was living below the poverty line. Twenty-one percent of the households earned less than $10,000 a year. Eighty-four percent of the people living in poverty in New Orleans were Black.

Overall, almost 36 million Americans are living below the poverty line, which the Census Bureau defines as $14,680 per year for a family of three. More than 15 million are living in extreme poverty, which is defined as less than half of poverty income.

Lee's bill affirms the obligation of the United States to improve the lives of the millions of Americans living in poverty and extreme poverty and calls upon President Bush to submit a plan to eradicate poverty by 2010.

The following is a statement Congresswoman Lee gave on the House floor last week, relating to the issue of poverty and the response to Katrina:

"Mr. Speaker,

"The devastation wrought by hurricane Katrina has torn down the curtain and exposed the dirty secret that divides our nation like an open wound.

"If anyone ever doubted that there were two Americas, hurricane Katrina and our government's shameful response to it have made the division clear for all to see.

"The brutal fact is that people died in this tragedy because they were poor.

"New Orleans is a city where 67 percent of the population was black. Nearly 30 percent - one in three people - were living below the poverty line. Twenty-one percent of the households earned less than $10,000 a year. Eighty-four percent of the people living in poverty in New Orleans were Black.

"So when disaster came, the people who had cash in the bank and a car in the garage escaped, and those who did not were shamefully left to fend for themselves.

"The Bush administration's response to Katrina has been nothing short of shameful, and there are a number of important questions that must be answered.

"Why did federal officials ignore predictions of a disastrous flood in New Orleans?

"Why did FEMA turn away assistance, telling Amtrak it didn't need its help evacuating survivors, denying the Red Cross access to New Orleans, turning away three trailer trucks from WalMart that were loaded with water and preventing the Coast Guard from delivering 1,000 gallons of diesel fuel?

"Why has the FEMA budget been cut since 2003?

"Why have the last two directors of FEMA been political appointees who had no experience with disaster management?

"As one commentator said recently, 'Actions have consequences.' No one could predict that a hurricane the size of Katrina would hit this year, but the slow federal response when it did happen was no accident. It was the result of four years of deliberate Republican policy and budget choices that favor ideology and partisan loyalty at the expense of operational competence. It's the Bush administration in a nutshell."

"Michael Brown should resign immediately, or he should be fired.

"I am also supporting a bill introduced by Rep. Dingell that would remove FEMA from the Department of Homeland Security and would require that the director of FEMA have experience in disaster management.

"I am also prompted to wonder what the tragic results were of having so many of our national guard fighting an unnecessary war in Iraq, when they could have been responding to this disaster.

"The incompetence and indifference demonstrated by the administration in responding to this tragedy was shocking, but it wasn't surprising. Does anyone doubt that if this sort of devastation had taken place in the communities where the small percentage of people who are benefiting from the Bush administration's tax cuts live, the response would have been swift and efficient? Can you imagine Bush pioneers, desperately clinging to their roofs, waiting for days to be rescued?

"This indifference to the most vulnerable among us is not isolated to this tragedy. It is part and parcel of a systemic problem that seeks to make a large sector of our population invisible.

"Many people, viewing the human tragedy left in Katrina's wake, could not recognize the images they were seeing. They thought they were witnessing a tragedy in Somalia, or Sudan. They think to themselves, this does not look like the America that I know.

"Some have even come to refer to the survivors of this catastrophe as 'refugees,' as if the images of the survivors they are seeing are too foreign for them to recognize them as Americans. The people you see on television are not refugees; they are American citizens.

"For some of us, however, this is an America we know too well, an America that is too often swept under the rug by lawmakers and the media.

"The truth is there are almost 36 million Americans living in poverty in the United States today. There are more than 15 million living in extreme poverty.

"What does that mean? According to the Census Bureau, it means that a family of three is living on less than $14,680 a year. They define extreme poverty as half of that.

"In 2002-2003 the number of children living in extreme poverty grew by half a million.

"Since President Bush took office, the number of poor people in America has grown by 17 percent.

"This is the real state of the ownership society. And it is unacceptable. The Bush administration's policies of tax cuts for the wealthy and cutting funding for the programs that help the most vulnerable in order to pay for this unnecessary war in Iraq are only making matters worse.

"That is why I have introduced legislation calling on President Bush to present a plan to end poverty in this nation. It is time to start moving in the right direction again, and the first step is for the Bush administration to acknowledge that there is a problem.

"America has been shocked by the images that have exposed this terrible divide in our nation. It is up to us now to decide whether our government has a responsibility to help improve the lives of the millions of Americans who are living in poverty or whether we will abandon them to the dirty water, to fend for themselves."

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

[US] Politics, priorities stand in way of national war on poverty

From USA Today

By Jill Lawrence, USA TODAY
WASHINGTON — Hurricane Katrina brought poor people directly into American living rooms. Then, amid the images of hardship, the Census Bureau said poverty had risen for the fourth straight year.

Is the nation at a crossroads, about to experience a dramatic shift in its politics and priorities?

Hurricane Katrina has sparked hopes and calls for a new national resolve to end poverty. But the public may not be mobilized for such a crusade.

Two-thirds of those in a USA TODAY/CNN/Gallup Poll this month said the country is not spending enough to fight poverty. Yet such sentiment cannot be attributed to Katrina; 69% said the same thing more than a year ago in a University of Chicago Poll.

Glen Bolger, a Republican pollster, says his pre- and post-Katrina surveys show voter priorities are unchanged. Asked what would most influence their vote for Congress next year, their top issues are Iraq, terrorism and jobs.

Even assuming the public would support a national war on poverty, many analysts say it's not likely to happen. One reason is the cost of Gulf Coast recovery, combined with the expense of the Iraq war and President Bush's drive for more tax cuts. "Yes, Katrina has shined a light on poverty," says Sheila Zedlewski, director of the Income and Benefits Policy Center at the Urban Institute. "But we have a competing problem and that is the federal deficit," which the White House estimated to be $333 billion this year.

Another problem is the divide between liberals and conservatives on how to fight poverty. More government programs or more run by churches? Direct help or tax cuts?

"We all want to solve poverty," says Donald Devine, vice chairman of the American Conservative Union. "The question is, will we do it the way we did it in 1932, or have we learned something since then?"

The New Deal looks pretty good to some Democrats. Former vice presidential nominee John Edwards, director of the Center on Poverty, Work and Opportunity at the University of North Carolina, praised three Depression-era programs this week and proposed a job creation program for the Gulf Coast. Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., wants a Gulf Coast Redevelopment Authority modeled on the Tennessee Valley Authority.

Bush's plan includes tax incentives for business, vouchers to help displaced parents pay for private and parochial schools, relaxed environmental regulations and suspension of a requirement that federal contractors pay workers prevailing local wages. All are part of a long-standing GOP agenda.

Calls for a more expansive fight against poverty are coming from many quarters. First lady Laura Bush told the Associated Press she hopes Katrina helps the country respond "in a different way" to poverty and racial problems. "A large percentage of our population probably doesn't realize what inner cities are really like and has looked away from that," she said Tuesday.

Most of those calling for broad-based action are Democrats or clergy. "We can no longer be a nation that overlooks the poor and the suffering," T.D. Jakes, pastor of a Dallas megachurch, said at a memorial service for Katrina victims.

Edwards, Illinois Sen. Barack Obama and Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry are among the Democrats pressing to turn Katrina into a pivotal moment. "Will we be satisfied to only do the immediate: care for the victims and rebuild the city?" Kerry, his party's 2004 presidential nominee, asked Monday in a speech at Brown University. "Or will we be inspired to tackle ... the societal injustice that left so many of the least fortunate waiting and praying on those rooftops?"

Charlie Cook, publisher of a political report, says Republicans "need to soften some of their hard edges or run the risk of losing their majorities" in the House and Senate. They would be smart, he says, to talk broadly about fighting poverty.

Are there any steps that could bridge the gap between parties? Rich Lowry, editor of the conservative National Review, suggests "a grand right-left bargain" in which liberals focus on preventing illegitimate births and conservatives support more urban spending.

Zedlewski says Katrina has revealed "a fragmented safety net" with many separate programs and sets of rules. It's so difficult to navigate that there may be bipartisan support for streamlining, she says: "People on both sides of the aisle would like to see this support system work better than it does."

Such consequences would be modest compared with those from the 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist factory fire that led to workplace reforms and the modern labor movement, and the 1927 Mississippi River flood that prompted a government response foreshadowing the New Deal.

But some leaders say even a discussion with no immediate results would be better than the pre-Katrina silence. Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa says his city has the highest poverty rate in the country. "I'm amazed at how little the issue of poverty is raised in the Congress," he says. "Hurricane Katrina is an opportunity for us to engage in that debate."

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

[John Edwards] Poor Americans must also help fight poverty

From The Seattle Times

By Steven Thomma
Knight Ridder Newspapers

WASHINGTON — Fighting the kind of poverty that Hurricane Katrina revealed anew will take more than the government can provide, John Edwards said yesterday. It also will take a commitment by the poor to work and stop having babies at young ages, he said.

"While America does more, people will have to do more, too," said Edwards, a former and likely future presidential candidate.

The former North Carolina senator, the Democrats' vice-presidential candidate in 2004, used a Washington speech to criticize President Bush's response to the hurricane. He also proposed new ways to help poor Americans, whose plight in the hurricane's wake is prompting a new look at poverty by Democrats and Republicans alike.

In a speech yesterday, the 2004 Democratic presidential nominee, Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts, also criticized Bush for the hurricane response and his handling of the Iraq war.

Edwards went further in exploring possible solutions. He argued that choices made by poor people, especially when they're young, greatly affect their chances of being poor.

"When a 13-year-old girl thinks there's nothing wrong with having a baby that will drive them both toward lives of poverty," he said, society has failed.

"When 15-year-old boys become fathers, then walk away, get shot or go to jail," he added, society has failed.

He urged expanding government programs such as the Earned Income Tax Credit for people who work but are poor and creating federally financed "work bonds" that give low-income working families $500 a year, housing vouchers to help poor people move to better neighborhoods with better schools and $1,000 annual grants that they could save for five years toward down payments on houses.

In exchange, he said, the poor and the government would have a new "covenant."

"Everyone will also be asked to hold up their end of the bargain," Edwards said, "to work, to hold off having kids until they're ready and to do their part for their kids when the time comes."

Monday, September 19, 2005

[United Nations] Leaders Slam Poor Progress on Poverty

From The Edmonton Sun

Leaders from Africa, Asia and Latin America lamented yesterday the scant progress made in meeting pledges to reduce poverty and disease set five years ago. A grim UN report said recently about 40% of the world's people still struggle to survive on less than $2 US a day.

Prospects for meeting UN development goals, which include cutting extreme poverty by half by 2015, dominated the final document issued at the end of last week's UN summit that attracted a record 151 world leaders.

In the first two days of the General Assembly's followup ministerial meeting, the plight of the world's poor remained in the spotlight in formal speeches and informal gatherings outside the United Nations.

Peruvian President Alejandro Toledo warned on Sunday that "poverty and exclusion conspire against peace, security and democracy."

Zambia's President Levy Mwanawasa expressed hope that the goals set after the Millennium Summit in 2000 and the commitments made last week by world leaders to achieve them "will not remain mere empty words."

Sri Lanka's President Chandrika Kumaratunga said "it is unconscionable" to let six million children die from malnutrition before their 5th birthday and to have more than 50% of Africa's people suffer from diseases like cholera, caused by unsafe water.

Reflecting a widespread demand, Ludwig Scotty, president of the tiny Pacific island nation of Nauru, called on wealthy nations "to match their rhetoric with action" by giving more money for development assistance and forgiving foreign debts.

On the sidelines, top diplomats from the United States, Britain, France and Germany met to discuss Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's rejection of a European offer of economic incentives in return for Tehran halting its uranium enrichment program.

To prove that Iran has no intention of producing nuclear weapons, Ahmadinejad offered foreign countries and companies a role in Iran's nuclear fuel production program.

A UN Human Development Report, released Sept. 7, said more than 1 billion people still survive on less than $1 a day, and 2.5 billion live on less than $2 a day. These figures amount to about 40% of the world's 6.2 billion population.

The 35-page document adopted late Friday by world leaders includes 16 pages on development, including a commitment by all governments to achieve the Millennium Development Goals, known as MDGs, which also call for universal primary education and halting the AIDS pandemic by 2015.

But the final declaration dropped a call for countries that haven't done so, including the United States and Canada, "to make concrete efforts" to earmark 0.7 per cent of their gross domestic product to development assistance.

Friday, September 16, 2005

[Bob Geldof] gives UN summit 4 out of 10 on poverty

From the Guardian

Ewen MacAskill in New York and Larry Elliot
The Guardian

Bob Geldof, champion of the Make Poverty History campaign, yesterday expressed disappointment with the failure of the United Nations summit to make progress on poverty reduction, giving it marks of only four out of 10.
His comments came at a joint press conference with Tony Blair organised by Downing Street to counter growing gloom over the summit.

Mr Geldof marked the Group of Eight summit at Gleneagles in July as 10 out of 10 for progress on aid, but he said: "This summit, if we are going to use the top 10 charts, I'm not thrilled ... four out of 10."

Mr Geldof said the summit had been hijacked by countries with other agendas. "On Africa we saw very disappointing language on trade; in fact, we saw a clawback (from Gleneagles)."
Mr Blair urged people to look instead towards the meeting of the International Monetary Fund next week and the World Trade Organisation in Hong Kong in December. "What we did at Gleneagles was enter into a series of commitments," he said. "These commitments have been safeguarded at the UN summit but we all want to go further."

A UK government source, speaking in private, said: "It would have been better had this week's summit not taken place. We have gone backwards since Gleneagles, not forwards."

However, Hilary Benn, the international development minister, issued a statement criticising those who had "written off the UN summit as a failure".

He said: "This summit has helped to make 2005 an extraordinary year for development and significant progress has been made in the last 24 hours to reach agreement on issues of huge importance."

Before flying home, Mr Blair was planning to speak at an alternative summit being hosted by Bill Clinton at the Sheraton in New York. Mr Blair joined Kofi Annan, the UN secretary-general, Condoleezza Rice, the US secretary of state, Olusegun Obasan, the Nigerian president, and about 40 other leaders to make the short trip from the UN summit.

[Clinton Global Initiative] Hunter and Clinton embrace poverty fight

From The Scotsman

FORMER US President Bill Clinton was joined by Scottish entrepreneur Tom Hunter in New York to launch a programme aiming to tackle poverty, climate change and key world issues.

The Clinton Global Initiative hopes to find solutions to problems including religious strife and governance.

It brings together politicians, business leaders, activists and academics by asking them to take specific action.

Among those who have already made significant contributions are Sir Tom who has donated around £55m to the campaign.

Last night Mr Clinton chaired a discussion between Prime Minister Tony Blair, US Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice and King Abdullah of Jordan as he unveiled the first four commitments at the Sheraton Hotel in Manhattan.

"I don't claim for a second that the Clinton Global Initiative will solve all of these extraordinarily tough questions," Mr Clinton said.

"But getting all of these people in one place to focus on these critical problemsis an important first step."

Monday, September 12, 2005

[Comment] Sachs: the US fight against the fight against poverty

From The Financial Times

By Jeffrey Sachs

The negotiations on the draft declaration for the World Summit which opens tomorrow have been nothing short of bizarre. The United States government has fought a relentless battle to dissociate itself from specific obligations regarding international development, and has tried repeatedly to the quash obligations that it has taken on the past. All of this has been taking place at a time when the U.S. itself has become an aid recipient, in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.

The opening salvo a couple of weeks ago was the remarkable assertion by the United States government that the Millennium Development Goals do not even exist, so that the phrase itself should be expunged from the document. This was news to the rest of the world, who were gathering at the Summit first and foremost to find ways to reinforce the Millennium Development Goals. The US claimed that it had signed the Millennium Declaration but not the Millennium Development Goals.

The argument was not very impressive. All 18 of the targets of the Millennium Development Goals – to halve hunger, fight disease, reduce maternal mortality, ensure access to safe drinking water, and more – are explicitly part of the Millennium Declaration. With 190 countries standing in opposition to the US position, the US relented.

The longer battle has ensued around official development assistance and the target of 0.7 percent of GNP in official development aid. It seems at times that all US foreign policy regarding economic development revolves around the US insistence to pay almost nothing to help the poorest countries.

US official aid levels are 0.16 percent of GNP, an increase from 0.10 percent when President Bush took office but still the lowest or second lowest of all donors (vying with Italy for the bottom slot). U.S. aid levels for Africa are 0.03 percent of GNP, meaning that the US gives Africa just 3 cents in aid for every $100 of US GNP. Much of the rest of US aid still goes to “strategic” countries such as Pakistan, Turkey, and Egypt, or to US consultant salaries.

Why the US government is so dead-set against doing more to help impoverished and dying people is one of the great mysteries of our time. It’s not as if the poorest countries are asking for an open checkbook or an unconstrained line of credit. They are asking for rich countries to honor a modest commitment, a mere 0.7 percent of GNP, roughly one seventh of what the US is spending this year on the military and one third of what the US has spent on tax cuts in the first Bush term.

Just as with the Millennium Development Goals, the US government has worked overtime to huff and puff that it never signed the 0.7 target, and thus should not be bound by it. Even if it were true that the U.S. had never signed on, the sight of the world’s richest country denying a long-standing international target in this manner is stunning. The US signed on to the 0.7 target in the Monterrey Conference on Financing for Development in March 2002. It has since bobbed and weaved to evade the implications of that agreement.

In paragraph 42 of the Monterrey Consensus, the US and other signatories declared that they “urge developed countries that have not done so to make concrete efforts toward the target of 0.7 percent of GNP in official development assistance.”

The European Union took up its pledge, and has defined “concrete efforts” as a new timetable to reach 0.56 percent of GNP in official aid by 2010 and 0.7 percent of GNP by 2015. The US on its side has simply been claiming that the target does not exist, and telling some in the corridors that signing the Monterrey pledge had been a mistake.

This aggressive position has continued down to the details. The US has fought commitments to a “Quick Win” against malaria through the mass distribution of insecticide-treated bed nets and effective medications. It has resisted commitments to quick wins in other areas as well. In the end, every specific target and timetable to help the world’s poorest of the poor has come under US fire.

The US fight against the fight against poverty would be bizarre at any moment (remember John Kennedy pledging “to those peoples in the huts and villages across the globe struggling to break the bonds of mass misery, we pledge our best efforts to help them help themselves, for whatever period is required”) but it has been especially shocking in the face of Hurricane Katrina. The US is accepting aid from UN agencies, Mexico, Europe, and others, at the very moment it is working overtime to avoid or evade commitments to the poorest of the poor, who are dying by the millions each year due to insufficient assistance from the donor countries.

There is a silver lining in all of this, believe it or not. The American people have been aghast at the failures of Washington to prepare for, and then address, the hurricane. They have been shocked that President Bush could declare that “I don’t think anyone anticipated the breach of the levees [in New Orleans]” when that risk was notorious and had been discussed for decades.

Similarly, whenever they have gotten a glimpse of the UN negotiations, they have been shocked. Though the American people know little about the Millennium Development Goals (since President Bush has perhaps never even uttered the phrase), editorial writers around the country, in both liberal and conservative regions, were dismayed that the US delegation was working in America’s name to undercut the world’s measurable and monitorable poverty alleviation targets that provide a clear framework for accountable results.

Perhaps the most notable bottom line this week will be that the voices of the poor are finally piercing the deep layers of indifference and misdirection.

[Christian Aid] COMPANY TAX DODGERS DERAIL BID TO END GLOBAL POVERTY

From Reuters Alert Net

World leaders will never meet their commitments to tackling global poverty unless poor countries are allowed to stop big businesses and rich elites from dodging tax and stealing wealth, says Christian Aid.

In the week the United Nations is examining progress towards its Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) in New York, a bold new report from Christian Aid shows how poorer countries are losing $500 US billion (£270 billion) a year in revenues to prosperous international tax dodgers.

In The Shirts Off Their Backs, Christian Aid warns unless massive gaps in poor countries’ revenues are plugged by responsible tax regimes, there is little hope that the MDGs will be achieved by the 2015 deadline set by the UN to halve world poverty.

‘Tax is the forgotten issue in the debate about how to tackle poverty and must be added to trade, debt and aid if the world is serious about meeting the MDGs. For decades, poor countries like Kenya and Bolivia have been haemorrhaging money to which they are properly entitled,’ says Andrew Pendleton, senior policy adviser at Christian Aid.

‘If these leaks could be plugged it would mean that poor countries would not have to be so reliant on hand outs that so often come with damaging strings attached.’

The report is published as part of joint work with the Tax Justice Network which today (Monday 12 September) releases a companion report entitled Tax Us If You Can.

Both works are highly critical of giant business conglomerates and some of the large international accountancy firms and banks – many of which are closely associated with Britain – who secrete company funds in tax havens outside the poor countries they are working in.

By using offshore banks, trust and companies, multinationals and some rich individuals avoid paying national taxes, thereby profiting from activities which foster poverty and undermine the notion of democracy.

‘Massive tax avoidance and illicit capital flight by companies and wealthy individuals in poor countries is costing the developing world US$500 billion per year in lost revenue – a sum that dwarfs annual overseas aid,’ said Andrew Pendleton.

The tax avoidance industry, which involves many financial services companies, is playing a major part in widening the gap between rich and poor and developed and developing countries, the reports state.

The sheer scale of the lost tax revenue this implies for governments around the world beggars belief. If spent on tackling poverty, the missing billions would more than plug the financing gap needed to achieve the Millennium Development Goals.

‘There is a crisis developing in poor countries as public services and infrastructure crumble because of a lack of public money. Tax avoidance by wealthy people and multinational companies is one of the main causes of this,’ said Andrew Pendleton. ‘Corrupt leaders, criminals and terrorists are hiding away their ill-gotten gains by piggybacking on the systems set up for tax avoidance.’

[UN] Poverty Fight May Be Subverted at U.N. Summit

From The Asian Tribune

United Nations 12 September, (IPS): The U.N. summit, billed as one of the largest single gatherings of world leaders, will prove to be an exercise in futility if its primary focus on poverty and hunger eradication is subverted by other extraneous political issues, according to development experts, senior U.N. officials and representatives of non-governmental organizations (NGOs).

"With an agenda dominated by global security and U.N. reform, it appears that the decisions needed to lift millions of people from abject poverty are not being given the prominence they deserve," complains Kumi Naidoo, chair of the Global Call to Action Against Poverty.

The original objective of the summit, which runs Wednesday through Friday, was to review progress made by the world's poorer nations on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) set in 2000. A pledge to halve extreme poverty and hunger by 2015 was a high priority on the agenda.

But this objective seems to have been overtaken by other political priorities, including human rights, terrorism, peacekeeping, disarmament, national sovereignty, nuclear non-proliferation and the restructuring of the world body.

As a result, the 191 member states have remained sharply divided over these politically-sensitive issues, thereby marginalizing the original development agenda of the summit.

Last week, the United States was embroiled in a controversy over its demand that all references to MDGs be eliminated from a declaration that is to be adopted at the summit. But since then, it has tried to tone down its political rhetoric.

Naidoo said the summit "is a chance for world leaders to reaffirm a timetable for achieving poverty reduction and get back on track with the promises made in 2000 to achieve the MDGs by 2015".

The MDGs include a 50 percent reduction in extreme poverty and hunger; universal primary education; promotion of gender equality; reduction of child mortality by two-thirds; cutbacks in maternal mortality by three-quarters; combating the spread of HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases; ensuring environmental sustainability; and developing a North-South global partnership for development.

A meeting of 189 world leaders in September 2000 pledged to meet all of these goals by the year 2015.

But Nicola Reindorp, of the international relief agency Oxfam, warns that if governments fail to make clear commitments regarding development goals, including the eradication of poverty and hunger, "progress would be so gradual that the Millennium Development Goals would not be met even in 100 years".

In a report released last week, ActionAid International said: "Without decisive and immediate action in New York to put poverty eradication back at the top of the agenda, and identify measures to get the world's poorest countries -- especially those in Africa -- back on track for the goals, the slim gains to date risk unraveling."

The U.S. government has launched "a wrecking ball against the development agenda, by opposing any reference to the goals, to targets on aid and debt, or to the need for action on Africa. The upshot is a summit that looks increasingly rudderless, and that risks going down in history as a hugely expensive failure," it added.

Wahu Kaara, ecumenical coordinator for the MDGs at the All African Conference of Churches, told the annual meeting of NGOs in New York last week: "Five years ago, world leaders had committed to overcome hunger, poverty and illiteracy by 2015. Since then, the world had focused not on the Millennium Development Goals, but on the so-called war on terror."

"There was a need to go back to the development agenda for the new millennium," she added. While U.N. reforms were important, the MDGs should not be sacrificed at the altar of some governments pushing their own self-interest.

Although Secretary-General Kofi Annan believes that development, security and human rights are interlinked, he points out that world leaders will have to make a stronger commitment to meet the MDGs.

"Instead of setting targets, this time leaders must decide how to achieve them" -- five years after the MDGs were adopted and 10 years before the Goals fall due. "If current trends persist," he warns, "there is a risk that many of the poorest countries will not be able to meet many of the goals."

Asked to single out the successes and failures of MDGs over the last five years, Salil Shetty, director of the U.N. Millennium Campaign, told IPS that in concrete terms, many developing countries have adapted the Goals to their own national context and started implementing strategies and plans with clear budgets attached to them, e.g. Vietnam and Brazil.

Shetty said that on Goal 8, namely commitments from rich countries, "there is no doubt that aid levels have gone up after decades of decline for the first time in the last couple of years because of (commitments made at the International Conference on Financing for Development in) Monterrey and MDG commitments".

The Group of 8 (G8) industrial nations have made some commitments on debt relief that take a small step forward on debt cancellation, he added. "A very important development has been the massive global effort from civil society in its broadest sense to mobilise citizens against the scourge of poverty and to use the MDGs as the minimal package that governments must deliver by 2015," Shetty added.

On the downside, he said, the hard data on progress is very disconcerting. "The overall performance on most Goals is far behind where we should be by now. The relatively good performance on the first Goal at the aggregate level masks huge disparities across and within countries and regions," Shetty said.

"Looking ahead to the next 10 years, we still feel that if governments across the world and international institutions have the political will, the Goals can be achieved. This will can be created only through citizens' pressure and active campaigning."

Asked whether or not the targeted deadline should be pushed beyond 2015, Shetty said that commitments made in 2005 will have to be monitored and enforced.

"There is no question of pushing back the deadlines, these Goals were so minimalistic in the first instance and the cost of their non-achievement can only be measured in terms of tens of millions of lives lost for no reason other than our collective inaction," he said.

Addressing the NGO conference last week, Shetty said 2005 was a crucial year for the MDGs. With the last three years lost to the "war on terror", he said, the Millennium Development Campaign was working to return the focus of international attention to the MDGs, including the need to achieve 0.7 percent of gross national income for official development assistance (ODA) to the world's poorer nations.

He said there was also a need to ensure the quality, not just the quantity of aid, and for a 100 percent debt cancellation.

Jeffrey Sachs, a professor at the Earth Institute at Columbia University and a director of the U.N. Millennium Project, is equally pessimistic.

"If the MDGs are not achieved by 2015," he warns, "then the world will have failed to reach its goals to save the 30 million children who would otherwise die; to provide 300 million more people with access to basic sanitation who would otherwise lack it; to ensure an adequate food supply for 230 million people who would otherwise go hungry; to ensure equality for women and men; and to ensure sustainable environment for the coming generation."

Such failure, he said, will lead to rising insecurity since extreme poverty is an important driver of conflict. And the year 2005 is the make-or-break year for the MDGs, he added.

- Inter Press Service -

[Britian] Watchdog bans Make Poverty History ads

From Reuters

LONDON (Reuters) - Make Poverty History (MPH), hailed as one of the most effective lobbying campaigns ever with its simple message and signature white wrist band, was banned on Monday from television and radio advertising in Britain.

Advertising watchdog Ofcom said the goals of its campaign, including an array of stars clicking their fingers to ram home the message that a child dies of preventable poverty every three seconds, were political and therefore outlawed.

"We have reached the unavoidable conclusion that MPH is a body whose objects are 'wholly or mainly' political as defined under the Act. MPH is therefore prohibited from advertising on television or radio," Ofcom said on its Web site.

Make Poverty History, an amalgam of 530 charities and aid groups that is part of the Global Call to Action Against Poverty, said it regretted the decision.

"The millions of people who are wearing a white band or taking action as part of a campaign do not see this as a narrow party-political issue. They see it as the great moral issue of our time," it said in a statement.

The organisation was created last year with the single goal of persuading the governments of the Group of Eight industrialised countries to write off billions of dollars in debt owed by the world's poorest countries.

Prime Minister Tony Blair and his finance minister Gordon Brown have both praised Make Poverty History as having been the deciding factor in convincing the G8 in June this year to agree to write off more than $40 billion (21 billion pounds) worth of debts.

Friday, September 09, 2005

[Comment] Indicted by Katrina

From Relevant Magazine

I’m embarrassed right now. I’m convicted, but not “convicted” like I just heard a rousing sermon. I mean that there is more than enough evidence to convict me of a crime. Me and a lot of other Christians.

I’m watching CNN. Scenes of devastation and despair flash across the screen. People are wading through water with garbage bags containing their only possessions that aren’t underwater. People are looking for shelter, desperate for food and clean water, in need of medical attention. Those who aren’t dead, that is. These are the people who have been left to rot in places like New Orleans and Biloxi in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. But these aren’t just any people. This isn’t a random sampling of Louisianians and Mississippians. These people are black. These people are poor.

Next I see the FEMA director expressing dismay that so many people stayed behind. He’s saying that he doesn’t understand why so many people would stay despite the warnings. If that’s not political spin, then this guy is a few fries short of a Happy Meal. The math is simple on this one. If you’re told to evacuate your home on short notice to get out of the path of a Category 5 hurricane, you can’t do it without one very important thing: money. You need money to stay in a hotel, perhaps for a very long time. You need money for food. You need a car. If you have a car, it had better be big enough for your family and their luggage. Then you need gas to run the car, and gas costs money. Nowadays, gas costs an obscene amount of money. Thus, the people left behind to suffer Katrina’s wrath fall mostly into one of two categories: people who are stupid or people who are poor. We can’t do much for the former, but we have no excuse for the plight of the latter. By “we,” I mean Christians. I mean me.

My temptation is to blame this on the government. It would be easy to make a list of ways I think our government dropped the ball on this one. I could rant for hours about how the richest country in the world can’t justify the existence of poverty so severe that thousands don’t have the resources to flee when nature throws an apocalyptic fit. I could quote Howard Zinn and wax liberal and self-righteous about how ethnic minorities have been forced into the lower economic classes through oppression. I could hold my own town meeting about all this except for something literally staring me in the face: I’m typing this on a Power Mac G5 with dual processors and a 20-inch flat-screen monitor. Six months ago, I thought I “needed” this computer, which costs as much as some used cars. As much as months of food. As much as plenty of gas, even at these ridiculous prices. Tonight, watching “the least of these” cry for help from rooftops, my definition of need is starting to change. And I’m ashamed that it took the flooding of the French Quarter for me to feel bad. Stuff like this is happening all the time, all over the world.

No, I can’t give our president a tongue-lashing over this. This is as much my fault as his, or anybody else in authority. I’m a Christian, and I hang out with a bunch of other Christians. Though we’re all middle class in America, we’re rich by international standards. And we have no excuse for permitting such poverty. Why? Because we all own Bibles. We even read them sometimes, though you don’t have to read very often to know that God commands us to help the poor. He doesn’t ask nicely. It’s not extra credit when I give change to a homeless guy. It comes with the job description of being a Christian. I deserve to be fired.

But I’m in good company, though that doesn’t let me off the hook. The Christian Church in the Western world has gobs of money. I’m not an economist, but I’m guessing we could eradicate poverty without exhausting half our resources. But we haven’t. There are probably a million reasons—from ignorance to greed—that we haven’t done it, but tonight I’m just going to focus on my part. I’ve spent too much and given too little. Yes, I give, sometimes to the point where it feels generous. But I seldom sacrifice. If I were willing to do that, it might have helped. No, it would have helped somebody, somewhere suffer a little less. If we all decided to sacrifice, then maybe only the stupid people having hurricane parties on Bourbon Street would’ve been left behind. But I’m not writing this to convict you. I’m writing this to confess. I have to start doing my job as a Christian if things are going to change.

But I’m not na├»ve. I know that it will take more than all of us giving so much that it’s painful to write the check. There are gargantuan problems on both collective and individual levels. It will take a lot of work, a long time and drastic social change before we can kiss poverty goodbye. In fact, as Jesus said, the poor will always be with us. But I’m tired of making excuses for why my sacrifice won’t “really” help. With God’s grace, I’m going to try to change my financial habits and expectations. It’s going to be hard and it will hurt, but not as badly as my brothers and sisters down south are hurting.

God be with them.

[US] Poverty goals to stay in UN draft

From the BBC

A row over United Nations reform plans has been resolved after the US gave up efforts to soften the draft document's commitment to reducing poverty.
The row erupted when the US demanded changes to the plan, including removing all mention of the UN's Millennium Development Goals for poorer nations.

But after strong criticism of the move, US Ambassador John Bolton put forward new wording that restored the phrase.

The plan will go before next week's 60th anniversary UN world summit.

Ambassadors from 32 countries have been given the task of reaching a consensus on a range of contentious issues before world leaders gather in New York from 14 to 16 September.

Promoting development

UN Secretary General Kofi Annan had hoped to use the summit to push through a series of reforms aimed at redefining the organisation for the 21st Century.

These include management changes, as well as fresh action to meet its millennium goals to reduce poverty and promote development, with targets to be achieved by 2015.

After six months of discussions, a 38-page draft document was presented to the General Assembly last month.

Then Mr Bolton, newly appointed as US ambassador to the UN, produced a series of objections to the document, including the phrase "Millennium Development Goals".

However, the proposed change drew strong opposition from most UN members.

As a result, Mr Bolton submitted a compromise referring to the need to realise goals and objectives that had emerged from major UN summits "including those agreed at the Millennium Summit that have been known as the Millennium Development Goals".

The compromise wording was accepted by the negotiating group, which still has to deal with another 250 changes in the document before next Wednesday.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

[US] Engaging in 'terrorism' over poverty declaration, Butler says

From the Australian Broadcasting Corporation

Reporter: Hamish Fitzsimmons

TONY JONES: Australia's former ambassador to the United Nations, Richard Butler, has accused the United States Government of 'terrorism' over its plans to abandon United Nations targets to reduce global poverty. The US has moved 750 amendments to a draft declaration on the United Nations millennium development goals, which aim to alleviate global poverty by 2015. The Federal Government is being urged to fight the amendments, but it says it believes the US is negotiating in good faith. Hamish Fitzsimmons reports.

HAMISH FITZSIMMONS: Ten years ago, as Australia's ambassador to the United Nations, Richard Butler, chaired meetings which led to a declaration to reduce world poverty. Now the United States has moved 750 amendments to that declaration, which Mr Butler has responded to in a typically blunt manner.

RICHARD BUTLER, FORMER AUSTRALIAN AMBASSADOR TO THE UN: They're trying to destroy the document. 10 years ago I chaired the 50th anniversary of the UN and the Syrians were the terrorists. They tried to destroy the document on the 50th. This time, the 60th anniversary, the terrorists seeking to destroy a declaration of all countries agreeing with each other is the United States.

HAMISH FITZSIMMONS: World leaders, including the Prime Minister John Howard, meet next week to endorse a final declaration on the so-called millennium development goals agreed on in 2000. These set measurable targets for health, human rights, AIDS, the environment, education, and reducing poverty by 2015. The proposed US amendments seek to delete the use of the phrase "millennium development goals" in any declaration from the summit next week. US ambassador John Bolton says his country does not support the subsidiary targets and indicators in the package. The 11th hour moves have alarmed aid groups, who are urging the Australian Government to fight the amendments.

JAMES ENSOR, OXFAM: What we would want to see is a clear unequivocal statement from Prime Minster Howard in the lead-up to the summit to the millennium development goals to increase Australian aid to meet agreed United Nations targets and to commit to very specific measures from the summit for governments to contribute to poverty reduction over the next 10 years.

RICHARD BUTLER: I hope you're right that the Australian Government will join with the overwhelming number of the world's countries and resist this terrorist attack on the document for the 60th anniversary.

HAMISH FITZSIMMONS: The Foreign Minister, Alexander Downer, didn't want to be interviewed, but a spokesman told Lateline the Australian Government believes the US is negotiating in good faith and Mr Butler's comments are typically anti-American. There is frantic lobbying at the UN to try and salvage the final declaration. Today the US indicated it may be willing to accept the use of the phrase "millennium development goals" provided it can be properly defined. Hamish Fitzsimmons, Lateline.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

[Vietnam] Country successful in reducing poverty says UN official

From The Thanh Nien Daily

Vietnam is a role model for many developing countries with its “strong ownership, clear vision and a commitment to reducing poverty,” UN Resident Coordinator Jordan D. Ryan has said.

Ryan, who is also United Nations Development Program Resident Representative, recently had an an interview with Vietnam New Agency on Vietnam's efforts to achieve the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

He expressed his belief that good implementation of the MDGs can help Vietnam raise the standards of living for its entire population.

Excerpts from the interview:

What is the importance of the Millennium Development Goals for Vietnam?

In September 2000, world leaders came together to sign the Millennium Declaration, which promised a better life for the people of the world. A life that will be more free, a life that will be more equal, a life in which people respect each other and have tolerance for different views, a life with respect for nature.

It's the vision of how the world should be. Part of the vision is that countries need to have some explicit time-bound goals: reducing poverty, promoting equality, making sure that young people are educated, that all people are healthy, that AIDS does not spread, and that the environment is safe for children to live in.

So the MDGs became the central element of the Millennium Declaration. These are worldwide standards, or benchmarks. Each country is to be measured against the MDGs: Have you reduced poverty? Are you promoting equality? Are you reducing diseases? They are international standards that each country is marked against.

The United Nations in Vietnam believes that in a country like Vietnam, where economic growth is high, one needs to see both sides of the coin. Yes, Vietnam needs economic growth, but at the same time, it needs to find ways to have that growth for all -- for the poorest of Vietnam. The MDGs tell you that yes, you can grow your economy and at the same time bring development for the poor, so that living standards can be raised for everyone.

What is your assessment of the speed of the implementation of the MDGs in Vietnam? What achievements are you most impressed with?

Goal number 1, and in a sense, all the goals lead to the idea that we need to reduce poverty. All of the goals are part of the poverty reduction agenda. Probably with the exception of one or two other countries, Vietnam has been the most successful country in the world in making sure that poverty continues to be reduced. Over the past 20 years, since the introduction of “Doi Moi,” (reform) and especially the last 10 years, Vietnam has done very well at reducing poverty. It used to be 70% of the population who lived on less than a dollar a day. Now, it is well under 24-25 %. The speed of poverty reduction has been fast in Vietnam. But now, we are going to get to the tough areas, those remaining “pockets of poverty” where ethnic minorities live in the most disadvantaged areas in Vietnam. While poverty continues to be reduced, we have to find ways to ensure that this poverty reduction is sustainable. Those are the big questions for the Government for the next five years.

What has the United Nations’ support been to Vietnam so far, and what will it be in the future?

We have always worked very closely with the Vietnamese Government on the poverty reduction agenda. In the early 1990s, we were among the first development agencies to focus on poverty reduction. We had a number of poverty projects in the north, center and south of the country. We helped Vietnam’s Government form a poverty reduction partnership with a number of other bilateral and multilateral donors. And most recently, we are very actively working with the Government to look at the poverty strategy, especially at its nationally targeted programs, the hunger eradication and poverty programs, and evaluating their effectiveness. In addition, the UN, including UNDP, has worked very hard on a number of MDGs reports. The Vietnamese Government is preparing its own report for the upcoming 2005 World Summit. We have produced an MDGs map of Vietnam, which allows us to see how the MDGs have been achieved and where more attention is needed.

So we are helping the Vietnamese Government to start visualizing where work needs to be done, not only monitoring and analysis but also progresses. Working closely with the General Statistics Office (GSO) and the Ministry of Planning and Investment (MPI), we have done a lot of analysis on the problem, trying to provide Vietnamese and internationals with the opportunity to work together to answer questions like, why poverty is growing in some areas; what the effective ways are to reduce poverty; and, how to make sure that economic development is beneficial to the poor. In addition to monitoring and analysis, the UN and UNDP have been supporting work with the media, trying to get the media to understand the MDGs. Last year, we organized a music campaign about the MDGs so that young people who like listening to music could see the link between artistic expression and the fight against poverty. Now, we are working on a new movie focusing on a young woman who travels from the north to the south of Vietnam meeting firsthand with the people to tell them about the MDGs. Vietnam is the first country in the world that has done a movie like this.

The UN has been involved in different MDGs campaigns, which is important because society needs to be mobilized together to fight poverty. Finally, we have been involved in specific projects that put the MDGs into action. These projects work at national and community levels with MDGs as the objectives and bring in more people to fight poverty.

From now to 2015, what should Vietnam do to reach the MDGs?

Poverty reduction should stay at the center of Vietnam’s efforts to reach the MDGs. Vietnam has done a good job of reducing poverty but what would happen if a natural disaster occurred? Or if bird flu, or another epidemic broke out? There are a lot of people who are just above the poverty line and a shock like that will send them below the line. Vietnam must find a way of lifting all those people up so that no shock will bring them down poverty again. This is especially true in ethnic minority areas and in some of the most remote areas. More attention needs to be paid to ensure that poverty rates stay low and that economic growth is inclusive.

As you can see in the paper today, the Vietnamese Government is committed to spend more money on the social side. That’s exactly what needs to be done. Quality education will prepare the young people of Vietnam for a bright future. It’s a good investment and shouldn’t be made on the backs of the poor. The poor shouldn’t pay for everything in education. Society needs to invest in education.

Likewise in health, Vietnam actually doesn’t invest much of its public resources in health. The Vietnamese people invest a lot of their private resources in health and that needs to be changed by increasing public investment in health care. Of course, Vietnam has challenges like HIV and it needs to find an effective way of bringing everyone into the fight. It will not just be the Ministry of Public Health, but also the Ministry of Culture and Information, Ministry of Trade, the Vietnam Tourism Administration, the Ministry of Planning and Investment, Ministry of Finance… We think it would be useful to have a strong national organization to fight HIV, headed by the Prime Minister, that calls on all people to be part of the fight against HIV. Right now, HIV is, and will be exploding in the country, unless we have a true fight that involves everyone.

Another aspect where Vietnam has a real challenge is environment. Vietnam has a rich environment that needs to be developed but at the same time it should be a balanced development that protects the environment, and ensures that all people have access to clean water and sanitation.

The final point is a sensitive issue. Vietnam has done very well on the issue of gender. There are more women in the National Assembly but it is true that there is still gender inequality. Women are paid less than men and work longer than men. Sometimes there are cultural issues that prevent women from participating equally. There are a lot of men in the top leadership. Are women really playing a leadership role, especially in the provincial and commune levels?

We think Vietnam is a role model for many developing countries: strong ownership, clear vision and a commitment to reducing poverty, all of which show that the world can be a better place.

[Comment] The Lagging Poor

From The Washington Post
THE POVERTY level edged up last year, to 12.7 percent -- the fourth straight annual increase. Overall median income remained flat at $44,389, down 3.8 percent from its peak in 1999. This is a robust economic recovery?

The Census Bureau's annual report on income, poverty and health insurance in the United States is not alarming -- but neither is it cheering, or even reassuring. Rather, the numbers underscore the lagging and uneven nature of the economic recovery since the 2001 recession. According to the new data, 4 million more people were living in poverty in 2004 than in 2001, and 4.6 million more people lacked health insurance.

Administration officials counsel patience, pointing to the downturn of the 1990s, when it took several years for the poverty rate to start to fall. "The last, lonely trailing indicator of the business cycle," Commerce Department official Elizabeth Anderson said of the poverty rate.

This has about it more than a whiff of wishful thinking. For one thing, the increase in poverty between 2003 and 2004 is in fact out of the ordinary; such a rise hasn't happened between the second and third years of an economic recovery since the federal government began collecting poverty data in 1960. For another, the poverty rate may be a lagging indicator, but in this case it's not lonely: See, for example, the median income of working-age households, which declined 1.2 percent.

Another ominous signal involves health insurance coverage. Although the percentage of people with coverage remained unchanged from 2003 to 2004, that masked a shift from employer-provided insurance to government coverage. The percentage of people with employer-based health insurance fell for the fourth year in a row. Most of this slack has been taken up by Medicaid, the shared federal-state health program for the poor and disabled. But with state budgets under increasing strain from Medicaid costs and with Congress poised to make cuts in the program, it's not at all certain that states will be willing or able to maintain coverage for working Americans hovering at the edge of poverty.

In the wake of this data and the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) was wise to postpone this week's planned vote to repeal the estate tax. Lawmakers need to remember in the weeks to come that this is an economic recovery that continues to leave too many Americans behind.

[Ohio] Poverty fund has $1.14 billion that hasn't reached poor

From The Akron Beacon Journal Online

COLUMBUS, Ohio - The state has socked away $1.14 billion in a poverty assistance fund, but less than half of it has been designated for a particular use, a newspaper reported.

Of the total surplus in the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families program, $599 million is listed as "unobligated," which means the state doesn't have specific plans for it. That figure is up grew by $168 million in the past year despite Census data showing Ohio's poverty rate rose a full percentage point in that time, The (Cleveland) Plain Dealer reported Sunday.

Critics said the Ohio Department of Job & Family Services could end up losing funding if legislators see that the agency's allocations aren't being used. The combination of rising poverty and growing surplus "sends the wrong signal to Congress because these resources aren't being used when they're desperately needed," said John Corlett, director of public policy at the Center for Community Solutions in Cleveland.

Last year, Cleveland was the poorest city of more than 250,000 people, according to Census data. Figures released last week showed it had dropped to 12th on that list.

Barbara Riley, director of the state agency, said the unspent money in the face of the rising poverty rate "does not look good and it makes us easy pickings, I guess you could say, and that makes me nervous and concerned."

Still, Riley said improved forecasting and new programs should reduce the unobligated balance from $599 million to $265 million by 2007.

Part of the problem, officials said, is that many counties still don't have programs to spend their TANF money, which must be used to assist families with children under 18. So the state's 88 counties end up returning a combined $100 million to the state every year.

"How can anyone say that we have kids suffering in this state for lack of money?" asked Jack Frech, director of the Athens County Department of Job & Family Services.

Frech said he has sought cash payments from the surplus to eligible families.

But every time he proposed it, he said, state officials told him, "No, we can't, we'll run out of money."

Riley said her agency has allocated $35 million to allow counties to develop and share new programs to spend the TANF dollars.

She, Corlett and Frech agreed the state should carry some surplus, but none could say for certain what a proper amount would be.

"We don't take a position that there's a right amount to have unspent," said Zoe Neuberger, a senior policy analyst at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities in Washington, D.C.

"There's always a balance between wanting to serve as many people as you can and wanting to have a cushion in case there's a downturn and an increase in poverty."

Tony Blair] urges developed nationes to help reduce poverty in poorest countries

From The People's Daily Online

British Prime Minister Tony Blair urged developed nations to cut trade barriers to help reduce poverty in the world's poorest countries, British newspaper Financial Times reported on Monday.

Failure to make progress at World Trade Organization (WTO) talks in December in Hong Kong could mark the end of WTO attempts to boost the world economy by lowering trade barriers from farm goods to services, said Blair in an article published in the newspaper before a trip to China and India.

"Clearly there is an enormous amount at stake in Hong Kong. Failure to make progress could even be fatal for the trade round," said Blair.

"Following the G8 commitment at Gleneagles to set a credible date for the end of agricultural export subsidies, it should be possible at Hong Kong to set a deadline of 2010," Blair said in his article.

"We need to go further. It is our moral responsibility to help those in poverty by allowing them the means to grow and prosper," Blair said, adding "it is clearly also in our own economic interest."

He said WTO ministers meeting in Hong Kong have a "huge responsibility" to take steps to lift people out of poverty.

The WTO had hoped to announce a significant advance in the Doha Round

of free trade negotiations in July, but member states were divided.

Blair said the WTO had not responded sufficiently to the needs of developing counties and had failed to increase African countries' access to rich countries' markets.

"There are many obstacles to overcome - high tariffs, quotas, subsidies and weak capacity," he said.

Blair is in Beijing for the eighth China-EU Summit, hoping to reach deals on trade, investment and climate change with China. On Tuesday, he will kick off a visit to China as a guest of Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao.

Britain, now holding the EU rotating presidency, became China's largest trade partner and third largest investor among the EU countries in 2004.