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A WAR ON POVERTY OR A WAR ON THE POOR?

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LOUVAIN, Jun 23 2008 (IPS) - The latest Human Development Report 2007/2008 of the UNDP on climate change forecasts that in less than 20 years, 2.4 billion human beings will live in shanty towns and poor suburbs that lack water and sanitation and suffer high rates of infant mortality, writes Riccardo Petrella, founder of the International Committee for a World Water Contract, is professor emeritus at the Catholic University of Louvain. In this article for IPS, Petrella writes that the world\’s major political challenge for the next thirty years and beyond is guaranteeing the right to a human life for all: in other words, the complete eradication of poverty from the world, and more precisely, the elimination of those approaches and processes which have led to the mass pauperisation of the world\’s populations. The solution involves a total and radical redefinition of the future of cities in which cities have to be given back to citizens. The author calls shifting the investment and use of local and global resources towards the generation of collective wealth in poor suburbs, namely the production of communal goods: water, health, education, housing, agriculture for local needs, renewable energies, energy saving, etc. This will involve a battle for the global restructuring of the current financial system, whose latest, umpteenth crisis proves such change is absolutely necessary.

The latest Human Development Report 2007/2008 of the UNDP (United Nations Development Programme) on climate change forecasts that in less than 20 years, 2.4 billion human beings will live in shanty towns and poor suburbs – places where affluent westerners would not even want their cats to live. Their lack of water and sanitation and the high rate of infant mortality bring into sharp relief the dramatic challenge of life/non-life facing billions of human beings.

It is estimated that the shanty towns of the main urban conglomerations of Africa, Latin America, and Asia (which have 42 of the 61 largest cities of the world, each with over five million inhabitants) now contain over one billion human beings in conditions of long-term poverty, collective physical, social, and moral violence and exclusion, and negation of the minimum standards of existence worthy of being called human. The city-dwellers of the countries of the North tend to see these populations as incapable, born to destitution and deprivation, and therefore easy prey for religious, ethical, and political fanaticism – a potential army for global terrorism.

In reality, poor suburbs and shanty towns reflect the dysfunctional growth of cities and are the weak and most vulnerable elements of our current urban civilisation. While the city of London can afford to spend EUR 1.2 billion every year to protect itself against the risk of floods, storms, and other natural disasters, a few days ago the suburbs of Rangoon and the city of Bogalay in Burma were swept away by a cyclone that left more than 50,000 dead. Their inhabitants were simply poor.

Looking back over the last thirty or so years (from when the countries of the North imposed the Structural Adjustment Policies (SAP) on the rest of the world) there can be no doubt that the ruling classes of the North, as well as those of the South (in thrall to the former), have no intention of taking the essential measures needed to bring about the disappearance of the shanty towns (and of poverty) and transform them into civilised places for human beings.

The inconclusive outcome of the last meeting, in April 2008, in Japan of the Civil G8 (the international coordinators of NGOs working to combat poverty and the sherpas of G8) provided yet another confirmation that the world’s ruling classes seem to prefer allowing the shanty towns to become permanent ghettos while preventing their inhabitants from emigrating to the countries of the North. The only immigrants from the South welcomed in the North are those with university qualifications, preferably a PhD.

The world’s major political challenge for the next thirty years and beyond is guaranteeing the right to a human life for all: in other words, completely eradicating poverty from the world, and more precisely, eliminating those approaches and processes which have led to the mass pauperisation of the world’s populations. It also means that the solution involves a total and radical redefinition of the future of cities in which cities have to be given back to the citizens.

How? Through a policy that shifts the investment and use of local and global resources towards the generation of collective wealth in poor suburbs, namely the production of communal goods: water, health, education, housing, agriculture for local needs, renewable energies, energy saving, etc. This will involve a battle for the global restructuring of the current financial system, whose latest, umpteenth crisis proves such change is absolutely necessary.

We need a three-pronged global strategy focused on providing housing, safe water, and adequate sanitation to small districts of cooperative housing. Financing should come from new regional systems for income tax collection, underpinned by a 10 percent reduction in military spending in the context of a policy of gradual disarmament – an urgent albeit extremely challenging objective.

Who should make the first move? We, the activists of the various Norths and Souths of the world. New life must be breathed into the fight on a continental and global scale by local communities for a different world, focusing on water, food, health, and housing, and bearing in mind that there is a great difference between the late 1990s and the first few years of this century. People today are much more aware of the problems of life on this planet than they were a few years ago, even the affluent.

The great wave of conservative oligarchic revolution which has trampled the world’s continents over the last thirty years has not yet ended, but the damage it has caused is also having an adverse effect on the lives of those in charge. That does not mean that the ruling classes will make root-and-branch changes to the system. They will try to implement moderate adjustments and palliatives (like the green neocapitalism and the European Union’s proposals to combat global warming) or solutions that are worse than the problems (like zero tolerance of illegal immigrants and fighting the poor instead of poverty). But they will not succeed in thwarting the fight for life. (END/COPYRIGHT IPS)

 
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