War Creates Poverty than Peace

Avilash Roul

The renowned war veteran of Vietnam, General Vo Nguyen Giap has recently called for a novel kind of war on poverty. Can the warmongers accept this realistic call? While the strong argument for the war is maintenance of peace thereby sustaining livelihoods, the truth is however, somewhat different. The pledges for poverty reduction by half by the countries have gone awry as financial assistance is diverted to war. The amount of aid given by developed countries to poorer nations has fallen by half since the 1960s, risking the lives of millions of children.

The Oxfam report “Paying the Price”, reveals that 10.5 million children under the age of 5 died in developing countries in 2002. It says that figure would have been 8.4 million if the world had been on track to meet the UN targets. It says that gap would more than double by 2015. During 2002 the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) accepted the world leaders pledge to reduce the number of the poor people in the world to exactly half by 2015, which was also reiteration of Monterrey declaration of poverty and development.

As a proportion of rich countries’ income, aid has fallen from an average 0.48 percent in 1960-65 to 0.24 percent in 2003. The UN has set a target of allocating 0.7 percent of national income to official developmental assistance. The demand has been made for more aid to help meet the UN's Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which include cutting poverty in half, reducing child mortality and improving education by 2015. It is estimated that 45 million more children would die in developing countries by 2015 if the world failed to meet the UN's goals.

The aid for the poverty reduction has been disrupted as security (war on terror!) concerns overshadowed the issues. In 2002, a third of the increase in aid flows from rich to poor countries came from allocations to Afghanistan and Pakistan. Flows of US aid to Israel, Egypt, Jordan, Iraq, Turkey and Afghanistan in the past three years are equal to aid to the rest of the world combined. The US government spends $US 450 billion on military but $US 13 billion on development assistance. This is $US 57 billion less than the US committed to achieving the MDG’s. Jeff Sachs, Director of the Millennium Project, said during a presentation in World Bank in March this year, that if the momentum is continued that extreme poverty could be eliminated from the planet by 2025 with the help the US and Europe. Sachs blamed the US for not providing resources for development and forcing poor countries to do structural adjustments. The US was giving just 0.14 percent of gross national income in aid, one-tenth of what it spent on invading Iraq. It is believed that the US aid would not hit the target that would be needed to halve world poverty until 2040!

Similarly, about 30 percent of aid given by the G-8 (minus Russia) countries were tied to an obligation to buy goods and services from the donor country. Italy and the US were the worst offenders in this. Only six of the 22 big donors give aid that is completely untied to purchases from domestic companies - an objective set by the members of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) in 2001. The official estimation says 70 percent of US aid and 35 percent of Canadian aid was tied.

In its 10th annual report titled "The State of the World's Children 2005", the UNICEF says that more than one billion children suffer from poverty, violent conflict and the scourge of AIDS. It also says that children in rich countries were victims of rising poverty rates. It says that in 11 of 15 industrialized nations the proportion of children living in low-income households over the last decade had risen.

However, a preliminary data from the OECD, released in early 2005, shows $23.5 billion of ODA flowed to the poorest countries last year, a 31 per cent rise in nominal terms than 2002. Anwarul Chowdhury, Under-Secretary-General and High Representative for the Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing Countries and Small Island Developing States, called the figures an encouraging sign of progress in the global fight to alleviate poverty. Norway, Denmark, Luxembourg, Sweden, the Netherlands and Ireland met the target last year, while in absolute terms the US, France, Germany and the UK contributed 70 per cent of the total ODA. Mr. Chowdhury said the jump indicated donor countries have taken a major step towards honouring pledges they made at a UN conference in Brussels in 2001 to "expeditiously" meet the target of giving equivalent to 0.2 per cent of their gross national product as aid to the world's 50 or so least developed nations.

In another report, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) writes that the world is losing the battle against hunger, with the number of malnourished people in developing countries growing to more than 800 million people and rising. Although the number of hungry people in developing countries fell in the early 1990s, that trend was later reversed, the report says. By 2000-02 the figure stood at 815 million, just nine million below the estimate of a decade earlier. The global total in 2000-02 stood at 852 million. The number of hungry people in sub-Saharan Africa continues to rise.

Are the developing countries continuing the attitude of mendicants to the war mongering states like the US for aids to reduce their poverty statistics? Or should they empower themselves to resolve the issue of poverty by forging a coalition within the poor developing countries? For the so-called self claimed defender of the Earth, the focus must be implementations of the pledges with prioritisation on development, not war. Let the world leaders decide the fate of hungry millions!

Author Note
Avilash Roul is an independent environment and development researcher.