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Q&A: Marathon Struggle To End Poverty

Zahira Kharsany interviews KUMI NAIDOO*

JOHANNESBURG, Oct 16 2008 (IPS) - Since 2005, the Global Call to Action against Poverty (GCAP) has mobilised millions of unionists, activists, and ordinary people to demand an end to poverty and inequality.

 Credit:  Zahira Kharsany/IPS

Credit: Zahira Kharsany/IPS

Last year, 43.7 million people took part in the "Stand Up" campaign's events around the world on the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty; this year, the aim is for 67 million people to not just stand up, but to take action against inequality between Oct. 17 and 19.

IPS correspondent Zahira Kharsany caught up with Dr Kumi Naidoo, co-chair of the Global Call to Action against Poverty (GCAP) and honorary president of CIVICUS (the World Alliance for Civic Participation) in Johannesburg and asked him what progress this global campaign is making towards a more just world.

IPS: The Global Call to Action against Poverty (GCAP) says that 50,000 people around the world die unnecessarily each day. What causes these deaths? Kumi Naidoo: If you look at just Africa: 7,000 people die of malaria, 6,000 of HIV/AIDS and 1,500 of tuberculosis each day. If you were to put that number together, in terms of loss of human life, it is the equivalent of five 9/11's every single day.

That's why GCAP called what's going on a practiced genocidal tsunami. Especially after what's been happening (with the global financial crisis) in the last few weeks.

We are convinced that if 50,000 people were dying everyday in Western Europe and North America, you can bet your last cent that the European Union, the U.S. and Canada and the G8 and so on would have found the money long time ago and addressed the problem.

We are then left with only one conclusion that, in fact, the lack of urgency has to relate to the colour of our skin. It is subliminal racism if you want to be kind about it.

Of the 50,000 deaths, 30,000 of those are young children. Too many children are dying at birth or shortly after birth, and also from other diseases and areas of conflict, and from just sheer hunger and poverty.

IPS: Three years ago, at the G8 Summit in Gleneagles, Scotland, the leading industrialised nations made commitments to fighting poverty and funding development in the South that you said could reduce that daily death toll to 37,000 by 2010. What progress has been made on implementing those commitments? KN: Firstly, the commitments made by the G8 in 2005 at Gleneagles Summit were not what the global call to action against poverty was all about. It was much less. Sadly, not even 20 percent of those commitments have actually been implemented.

The events of the last three to four weeks have shown very, very clearly that when there is political will, humongous amounts of resources can be found to actually address a particular global problem.

To give an example, to write off the third world debt would cost in the region of 500 billion dollars or even less. Five hundred billion is a figure that has been tossed around (in recent weeks) to bail out bankers who have behaved irresponsibly and so on. But there is a political will to save this banking system, so resources can be found.

IPS: The Global Call to Action against Poverty has long advocated greater justice in trade relations. What progress has been made on this front? KN: There has been no progress on trade justice. In fact, if there's been one area where there's been a cynical blocking on the part of the European Union, the US and a few of the allies in the north like Australia, it has been on the whole area of trade.

We needed to get a global trading system that would have clear developmental benefits and that would also address some of the injustices in the system. But the conduct over the years – and GCAP has been there, I have been there – what we saw was that even though the rich countries and the poor countries were not starting on a level playing field, you saw rich countries wanting to deny poor countries the same economic instruments that they used when they were still developing.

IPS: What exactly are the aims of this campaign from Oct. 17-19? What is the purpose of mobilising millions to "Stand Up and Take Action"? KN: In 2005, when we launched GCAP, we had a vision to unite trade unionists and NGOs and religious groups and so on. If each of us lobby and do our small little campaigns we can only get so far.

In 2005 we had three days of action around the G8, around the UN General Assembly and around the WTO meeting. Those three events mobilised close to 30 million people.

In the next two years we kept it going, but there were a couple of things we wanted to do. We didn’t want the figure we say we mobilised to be our figure, we wanted an external party to do it. And secondly we wanted to make it self-organising, where it doesn’t mean if you live in Tzaneen (South Africa) and there is a march in Pretoria, you say "It's too far" and so you can't make it.

We wanted people to be part of it where they live, where they work, where they pray and where they play. This year is the first time we set a target of getting 1 percent of the world's population to participate. The nice thing about this is people are also allowed to frame their demands as they want it.

We take a view that this struggle for human rights and the struggle for gender equality and the struggle to end global poverty – these struggles are marathons and not sprints, so we can’t take a view that if we take one action we will get an immediate response.

What we are seeing is that there is a critical mass of momentum that’s building up. We are building a strong collective momentum. If we look at the financial crises, if we and developing countries are smart we can come out of it with some of these agendas being addressed. And if we are not smart,the financial crisis will be used as an excuse for a reduction in development.

*The version of this interview originally posted Oct. 17 contained an error. Ingrid Srinath is the Secretary General of CIVICUS. Dr. Naidoo is presently co-chair of the Global Call to Action against Poverty and Honorary President of CIVICUS.

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