Fight Terrorism By Ending Poverty
James D. Wolfensohn is president of the World Bank.
greatest long-term challenge for the world community in building a better
world is that of fighting poverty and promoting inclusion worldwide. This
is even more imperative now, when we know that because of the terrorist
attacks, growth in developing countries will falter, pushing millions
more into poverty and causing tens of thousands of children to die from
malnutrition, disease and deprivation.
Poverty in itself does not immediately and directly lead to conflict,
let alone to terrorism. Rather than responding to deprivation by lashing
out at others, the vast majority of poor people worldwide devote their
energy to the day-in, day-out struggle to secure income, food and opportunities
for their children.
And yet we know that exclusion can breed violent conflict. Careful research
tells us that civil wars have often resulted not so much from ethnic diversity-the
usual scapegoat-as from a mix of factors, of which, it must be recognized,
poverty is a central ingredient. And conflict-ridden countries in turn
become safe havens for terrorists.
Our common goal must be to eradicate poverty, to promote inclusion and
social justice, to bring the marginalized into the mainstream of the global
economy and society.
We can do this through steps that help prevent conflicts. Take the example
of the Nile Basin Initiative. It is no secret that water shortages pose
a challenge to development and peace in North Africa and the Middle East.
The initiative is a coming-together of the 10 countries of the Nile River
Basin, providing a vehicle for cooperation on a program of sustainable
water use and development. This is a good example of multilateral action
to prevent conflict and to work directly for poverty reduction.
Equally important, we can help peace set down roots in societies just
emerging from conflict. For example in Bosnia, where international support
is helping communities come together at the local level on small-scale
projects, creating jobs and bridging ethnic differences. Or in post-conflict
societies, such as East Timor and Rwanda-where the international community
is helping to rebuild infrastructure, reintegrate soldiers into the society
and work force and restore the capacity of governments to manage their
economies. Success may take years of hard work, but the alternative is
a never-ending cycle of violence.
Central to conflict prevention and peace-building must be strategies for
promoting social cohesion and inclusion. Inclusion means ensuring that
all have opportunities for gainful employment, and that societies avoid
wide income inequalities that can threaten social stability. But inclusion
goes well beyond incomes. It also means seeing that poor people have access
to education, health care and basic services, such as clean water, sanitation
and power. It means enabling people to participate in key decisions that
affect their lives. That is what we mean by empowerment.
But can we really make progress against poverty? Recent history tells
us that we can. After increasing steadily for 200 years, the total number
of people living in poverty worldwide started to fall 15 or 20 years ago.
Over 20 years, the number of poor people has fallen by perhaps 200 million,
even as the global population grew by 1.6 billion. This has been a direct
result of the better policies that developing countries have been putting
And progress extends well beyond income measures. Education and health
have also improved. Since 1970, the proportion of those in the developing
world who are illiterate has fallen sharply, from 47 percent to 25 percent;
and since 1960, life expectancy has risen from 45 to 64 years.
Yet we must not underestimate the challenges that remain. Half the developing
world-some 2 billion people-live in countries that have seen little growth
in the last two decades. And even in those developing countries that have
been doing relatively well, hundreds of millions of people are marginal
to the progress of growth. As a result, well over 1 billion people, around
20 percent of the population of this planet, live on less than $1 a day.
And the scale of the challenge is not only immense but rising. In the
next 30 years the population of the world will increase from 6 to 8 billion.
Virtually all those 2 billion will be in the poor countries of the world.
In the wake of the tragedy of September 11, facing these challenges, and
taking multilateral action to meet them, are more important than ever.
What should be our agenda?
First, scale up foreign aid. This may be much harder in an international
economy that is slowing, but the needs and the stakes were never greater.
Aid to Africa fell from $36 per person in 1990 to $20 today. And yet it
is Africa, a continent now making great efforts to improve, that may feel
most sharply the poverty fallout of the terrorist attacks. We cannot let
Africa fall off the map as we turn our attention elsewhere.
Second, reduce trade barriers. The new trade round must be one that is
motivated primarily by a desire to use trade as a tool for poverty reduction
and development. Substantial trade liberalization would be worth tens
of billions of dollars to poor countries, and yet we know that at times
of economic downturn there are increased pressures for protectionism.
We must fight these pressures.
Third, focus development assistance to ensure good results. This means
improving the climate for investment, productivity, growth and jobs as
well as empowering and investing in poor people so that they can fully
participate in growth.
And, fourth, act internationally on global issues. This includes not only
confronting terrorism, internationalized crime and money laundering but
also combating communicable diseases like AIDS and malaria, building an
equitable global trading system, safeguarding financial stability to prevent
deep and sudden crises and protecting the natural resources and environment
on which so many poor people depend for their livelihoods.
And all this we must do with developing countries in the driving seat-designing
their own programs and making their own choices.
But we must also bring in the private sector, civil society, faith-based
groups and international and national donors. Ours must be a global coalition-to
fight terrorism, yes, but also to fight poverty.