The Rich Should Not Forget the ROW (Rest of the World)
Jose Ramos-Horta won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1996.
Dili, East Timor-The
world's economy is many times larger than it was only 50 years ago. Particularly
in the Northern countries, which have the greatest concentration of personal
wealth, the quality of life has improved dramatically. Mind-boggling advances
have occurred in vast fields of human endeavor, from genetics to computers.
Human beings have walked on the moon, Mars is being studied at ever closer
Yet the same human intelligence that has produced such advances seems
so far unable to eliminate extreme poverty or tropical diseases such as
malaria and cannot provide clean water to hundreds of millions in Africa,
Asia and Latin America.
And the gap between rich and poor has grown, not diminished. Hundreds
of millions survive on less than $1 a day, children walk miles to go to
school, if at all, or to fetch firewood and water for the household. Child
labor, prostitution and sex slavery are rampant in the impoverished but
In their pursuit of even greater prosperity, weapons-producing countries
aggressively push arms in developing countries that cannot even afford
to provide clean water to most of their people, fueling local, often ethnic,
Do we have some answers to these challenges from the dark side of the
There is no dispute that abject poverty, child labor and prostitution
are indictments of all humanity. However, poverty should not only touch
our conscience: It is also a matter of peace and security because it destabilizes
entire countries and regions. That in turn threatens the integration of
the global economy that is vital if the rich are to stay rich or if the
poor are to move up, if only an inch.
One need not be original to propose some key elements of a solution to
these problems, as those more enlightened than I have.
Drawing on the ideas already in circulation, here is the agenda I propose:
The g-8, European Union and World Bank should lead the initiative in writing
off the entire public-sector debt of all non-oil-producing countries whose
per capita income is less than $1,000.
In addition, a special fund should be developed by the World Bank and
the UN Development Agency (UNDP) to assist these countries in improving
governance and generating employment for the poorest.
Other highly indebted countries (for instance, Indonesia, Nigeria, Brazil
and Mexico) should also benefit from a special debt-relief package of
up to half of their public-sector debt if the proceeds are aimed at poverty
reduction and education.
For all cases there must be strict conditions involving reduction in defense
expenditures, democratic reforms (including of the security forces), good
governance and accountability, and allocation of saved resources to eradicating
Debt cancellation or relief can be phased in tandem with the reform policies
being adopted and implemented by the targeted country.
Increase overseas development assistance
All rich countries should increase the percentage of their overseas development
assistance within the next 10 years to the UN-recommended 0.8 percent
of GDP. Perhaps on a dollar-for-dollar basis where applicable, such aid
could match reduction in military expenditures associated with debt relief.
Improve market access
Following the example set by the European Union, the United States, Canada
and Japan should open up their markets for goods from the HIC (highly
indebted countries) and ease some of the stringent quality-control and
quarantine rules that make it impossible for the poorest countries to
export their goods and commodities.
Build an anti-poverty coalition
The violent demonstrations that greet every
gathering of world leaders from Seattle to Prague and Davos to Gothenberg
and Genoa reflect the justified frustration of those who are genuinely
concerned about the effects of globalization on the poorest of the world.
However, one can also see the opportunistic manipulation of these people
by Communist-era hard liners who, seeing their world revolution agenda
discredited with the collapse of the Soviet Union, now try to hijack what
is otherwise a genuine anti-poverty movement.
This past year I attended the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland,
during the last week of January. Looking around me, I saw the richest
and the most powerful people in the world and realized that I was the
poorest among that lot. Yet I did not see, hear or read any complicated
plot by the rich to rule the world.
From that modern-day Robin Hood, George Soros, to Bill Gates and James
Wolfensohn, the World Bank president, I heard genuine concern and motivation
to help the poor.
An ocean away in Porto Alegre, Brazil, thousands were meeting in defiance
of the rich running the world from Davos. From that snowy perch in the
Alps, as one of the poorest among the richest, I concluded there was enough
good will on both sides of the divide to meet halfway.
The poor will not see their lot improved if we opt for the arrogant and
discredited Marxist dogma still trotted out by far too many as a solution
to the world's ills. The rich will not be able to continue to reap the
profits of their investment in globalization if they do not seriously
address the issues of poverty on a world scale.
To the end of establishing this middle position, I propose a world summit
bringing together representatives from the g-8, World Bank, Group of 77
(developing nations' group in the United Nations), development and human
rights NGOs (non-governmental organizations) as well as the corporate
world to debate and fashion a global strategy. The ultimate aim should
be to boost the poorest with a sort of global Marshall Plan that involves
debt cancellation or relief as well as proactive programs to reduce poverty.
Globalization has tied the g-8 to the ROW (rest of the world). To sink
or to swim is the choice they now have to make together.
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