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THE POVERTY, FOOD, FUEL, ENVIRONMENTAL AND FINANCIAL CRISES ARE ALL INTERCONNECTED

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AMSTERDAM, Oct 13 2008 (IPS) - These days I feel like my four year old niece who used to ask me every few minutes, “What´s happening Sylvia?”. Financial crisis, rescue plans and thousands of billions are being shouted at me by the media. There is strong leadership being shown to save banks, but without apparently much knowledge about cause and effect. The top of ‘the pyramid’ needs to be saved with our hard earned tax money, we are told, otherwise we will all perish together in economic recessions, writes Sylvia Borren, Co Chair of the Global Call to action Against Poverty (GCAP) Alliance. Simultaneously, there appears to be little concern, and insufficient committed leadership shown towards the bottom of the pyramid. We need around one percent of all the money that governments are now suddenly spending on saving the banks to tackle poverty. Money that can make the difference between real life and death: an emergency food fund, seeds to plant, clean water, health and education. All poverty in the world can be solved ten or twenty times over with the amounts of money so surprisingly available now.

Simultaneously, there appears to be little concern, and insufficient committed leadership shown towards the bottom of the pyramid. We need around one percent of all the money that governments are now suddenly spending on saving the banks to tackle poverty. Money that can make the difference between real life and death: an emergency food fund, seeds to plant, clean water, health and education. All poverty in the world can be solved ten or twenty times over with the amounts of money so surprisingly available now.

At June’s FAO meeting in Rome, government leaders found only $8 billion for the food crisis, at the United Nations in September they pledged a miserable $16 billion partly repackaged funding for the millennium goals. Yet the USA alone is offering a $700 billion rescue plan, in an estimated total $3 trillion bail out. A bail out, to speak in historical terms, for those who continue to eat cake. Not for those who are dying for lack of a bit of bread.

At the opening session of the High Level Event on the Millennium Development Goals at the United Nations on September 25th, the last speaker was Ela Bhatt, a wonderful Indian social leader of a millions-strong woman’s organisation. She organises on the ground against poverty, for small-scale development with microfinance and for fundamental rights. She was the only woman speaking and the only voice from civil society. She was “we the people” and not “we the governments with our own vested interests and power games”.

I sat up high above in the UN Plenary hall and saw world leaders (95% men) loose interest the minute she started speaking. As a small person with a soft voice, she told the truth, ´We are so proud of our skyscrapers but we do not take responsibility for our slums… ´ . The world leaders talked amongst themselves. They got up and walked away. They became like a class room of schoolboys increasingly rowdy because she didn´t shout at them? Because she spoke of the reality as no other speaker had? Because she didn´t speak of dollars but of real women, men and children struggling, too often failing to survive?

It will remain as a picture in my head for life. The symbol of Heads of State not bothering to listen to us, the people. Not caring enough to pay attention even for the 6 minutes that Ela was allowed to speak. This image of political and gender arrogance towards one of the strongest social leaders of our time continues to haunt me.

Ela is one of the Elders that have gathered around Nelson Mandela to try and show a route forward for our floundering world, reminding citizens of their fundamental human rights. The poverty, food, fuel and financial crises, environmental disasters, social and political conflict are all interconnected. We need a different economic and social contract in this world. We need a new and really inclusive democracy in which women and different minorities are heard. Not only at local but also at national and global levels.

From the 17th to the 19th of October we expect more than 67 million people around the world to Stand Up and Take Action against poverty and inequality -one percent of the world’s population. It would be wise for the leaders of the world to take note. Why not build that new social contract? Start by listening to us, the people. Act against poverty seriously, not only with words, but with money and leadership. Why don’t you, political leaders, spend a dollar at the bottom of the pyramid for each dollar you are now spending at the top?

Then we can save so many lives, and reach the millennium goals within the few years left. (END/COPYRIGHT IPS)

 
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