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Crumbs For The Poor

Crumbs For The Poor

Oxfam says that for poverty reduction, WSSD was an opportunity wasted

Johannesburg 3 September : After nine days of bluster the world gets some gains on a few environmental issues, and on sanitation for the poor. But over all the deal as it appears today is feeble: a triumph for greed and self-interest, a tragedy for poor people and the environment.

Who’s to blame? Oxfam International points the finger straight at the world’s leaders. “Most of them lacked the guts and will to achieve a brave and far-reaching agreement that might have effectively tackled the problems of poverty and the decaying environment. It was within their grasp,” said Andrew Hewett of Oxfam International.

Some nations get pats on the back. Some of the gains are significant - protection of the environment and reduction of poverty are inextricably linked. But the majority of the rich countries - most of the EU nations, the US, Japan, Canada, Australia - have been guilty here of a grand deception. They talked the talk about the poor and sustainable development - but in most issues, when the time came for targets, timetables and money, they let the world down.

The summit outcome is well out of step with current world opinion. And it is a huge disappointment for those governments that did come here with real proposals; for the tens of thousands from civil society across the world who laboured in the belief they would be heard; for those members of the business community who are genuinely waking up to their responsibilities to the environment and the poor.

But most of all the WSSD turned its back on the poor. We were told last week that addressing poverty was at the heart of the summit agenda. What did we get?

- No new commitment or timetable to end rich countries’ agricultural export subsidies and dumping that destroy developing world markets

- No international plan to address the commodity price crisis

- No commitment to raise aid levels - in fact the text encouraging rich countries to increase overseas aid is less strong than it was 10 years ago in Rio

- No commitment to further cancelling of debt in the developing world

These failures will reverberate for many years. Thirteen million people in southern Africa currently facing famine must now know that the world’s leaders have let them down - there’s no action to change the bad policies that have turned the drought into a crisis. The 2 billion living in absolute poverty must know that the visionary promise of the Millennium Develop-ment Goals was an empty thing. With no commitment to significantly raise aid levels, does anyone now believe that halving poverty by 2015 is possible?

The failures here mean a crisis of credibility for our leaders and for international processes. What hope can there be now for getting real progress in the so-called WTO development round? “If the world couldn’t deal with these most pressing problems here in Johannesburg - when will it?” said Andrew Hewett

Ends

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