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US House of Representatives on World Poverty

The following is quoted from the United States House of Representatives on World Poverty.

Meeting the Challenges of Global Poverty

The disparity of wealth around the world is staggering and represents one of the greatest failings of the capital-market system. The extent of global poverty is alarming: more than 1 billion people live in extreme global poverty which is defined as living on less than $1 a day and an additional 2.7 billion people live in poverty which is living on less than $2 a day. 1.2 billion people live without access to safe drinking water. Of the world's approximately 40 million people living with HIV/AIDS, more than 93% live in developing countries. Nearly 800 million people do not get enough food, and about 500 million people are chronically malnourished. More than a third of children are malnourished. So what do these numbers mean? They mean that nearly half of the world's population is struggling in poverty and one-sixth of the world's population can't meet even the most basic needs for survival. This is morally unacceptable.

There has been a great awakening around the world on the issue of global poverty. The G-8 summit recently met in Scotland and sought to focus international commitment and attention on this issue, particularly in Africa. The ongoing round of trade negotiations, commonly known as the Doha round, is centered on global poverty and development. Bono, the lead singer of U2, has lent his voice to a campaign called the One Campaign, with the goal of fighting the global AIDS epidemic and ending extreme poverty. There is more awareness around the world on the issue; it's seeping into the everyday lexicon and media. To build on this momentum, the United States needs a comprehensive strategy, one that currently does not exist, to help eliminate extreme global poverty. We need to leverage development aid, debt relief, technical assistance and public-private partnerships. We need to coordinate with world bodies, including the United Nations, to help impoverished countries devise plans that will work for them. The United States has a moral obligation and a strategic need to help eradicate global poverty. I introduced a bill last week, that I will address later on, that compels the Administration to develop a strategic plan in fighting global poverty and reporting back to Congress on its progress.

To capitalize on this larger awareness, we must change people's attitudes; people must realize that while the elimination of global poverty is a long-term goal that will take decades to accomplish, we can make efforts now to help billions of people lead better, healthier and more productive lives. The fight against global poverty should be seen as a marathon, not a sprint. There is no greater long-term threat to the ideal of liberal democracy and capitalism than global poverty. It is a destabilizing force that undercuts the very principles of a free society and of human equality.

Over the last few years, the United States has lost credibility in the international arena. We need to bolster our relations with the world community and taking a strong lead in combating global poverty can go a long way in that effort. We can demonstrate true American values: helping our neighbors in need and showing compassion for the world's most destitute.

In dealing with the problems associated with extreme global poverty, there are four concrete steps we can take to address this issue. We must ensure that developing countries have a decent infrastructure, the ability to reduce the effects of debilitating diseases on their population, access to affordable credit to help build their small businesses that drive their economies and finally access to a free, universal education system. I will address each one of these steps individually.

First of all, developing countries need a basic infrastructure as the first step in alleviating poverty. A good illustration of what I mean by infrastructure is if the following criteria are met: There is potable water to drink and food to eat. Basic hygiene and nutritional needs are met. There is a healthcare system in place to take care of basic medical needs. Plumbing is available to take care of sewage and hygiene needs. There is electricity to produce enough light to see by and the ability to cook meals exists. Finally, a decent education system is in place so that children have a chance of getting a solid education and possibly bettering their lives. If these needs are met, we will go a long way in alleviating extreme global poverty.

The second step that we need to take in combating global poverty is the need for developing nations to stand up a public health infrastructure. This will go a long way in alleviating disease in developing countries for millions of people. Without such a system, global health concerns will further contribute to extreme global poverty. Diseases such as HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria are enormous challenges and have a disproportionate impact on the world's poor. Those who are sick cannot participate in child care, commerce or education. The economic impact - not to mention the impact on families and communities - is staggering. Also, as travel and contact among nations is increasingly common, the developed world can no longer consider itself protected from such disease. It's clear that without progress on this front, the effort to reduce poverty is nearly impossible.

Seattle is home to some of the world's greatest non-profit organizations focused on global poverty initiatives, like World Vision and The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the world leader in global health initiatives. These groups have committed and donated billions in their efforts to reduce global health inequities by accelerating the development, deployment and sustainability of health interventions such as access to potable water which is fundamental to economic growth and healthy living. Roughly 4,000 children die each day of diarrheal diseases caused by poor sanitation and contaminated drinking water. We have the technology and the tools to provide clean water, we must commit ourselves to tackle this problem. Our local NGO's are playing a central role in this effort and I applaud their endeavors.

A third front in the fight on global poverty involves economics and micro-credit programs. I believe that we must aggressively support micro-credit programs - they are having an important impact on breaking the cycle of poverty throughout the world. Offering the poor an opportunity to join in the economy can make life-changing differences. The poor, all too often, have no access to capital and would not be eligible for traditional bank loans. Micro-credit offers a chance to grow a middle class and create economic stability in regions where, currently, that is a scarce commodity. According to the World Bank, extreme poverty was reduced by 70 percent within five years among those who participated in the Grameen bank micro-credit program. Micro-credit makes a difference.

Borrowers receive small loans -- oftentimes $100-$150 -- and use that money to start small businesses that create income and allow the recipient to pull themselves and their families out of poverty. I have seen the effect of micro-credit loans first hand during a trip to Central America. In January of 2004, I traveled to Honduras with the Global Partnerships, a great organization based in Seattle. It was during this trip that I visited the Mixed Cooperative of United Women (COMIXUL), which is a microfinance institution. Women who started with nothing have used this program to start, for example, an aloe vera soap factory that now employs fifteen people. These small loans have empowered women and men in the developing world with the resources to provide themselves with health care and to educate their children. In fact, many of the women I met with were proud to point out that their children were now employed as accountants, teachers and computer technicians. Microcredit programs are working and we should continue to invest in these programs.

Another critical piece in combating global poverty is education. Education is one of the most significant tools for reducing poverty. When given the opportunity to learn to read and write, citizens are armed with the skills they need to participate in their communities, in their economy and their government. Education not only improves people's health, income and productivity, but is also empowers them to create a civil society that leads to better government and greater involvement in the global economy. It is in our national interest to support basic education in developing countries because it helps bring transparency to governance and fosters democracy and stability.

It is a proven fact that no country has reached sustainable economic growth without achieving near universal primary education. When it comes to health and eradicating global poverty, it is estimated that 700,000 cases of HIV/AIDS could be prevented each year if all children completed primary education. In 17 African and 4 Latin American countries studied, educated girls have significantly lower risk of HIV infection. In fighting global hunger, it's estimated that farmers with just four years of schooling are 9% more productive than farmers with no education. Access to quality education is one of the best ways to prevent child labor, trafficking in children and child soldiers. Yet, despite these clear benefits to education, 104 million children, 57% of whom are girls, never have the chance to go to school. Half of the children who state primary school do not finish it - and in sub-Saharan Africa, two out of three do not finish. We can, and should, do better.

Education among women is especially important. Women play a central role in their families and are often responsible for the health, education and economic well-being of their children. The children of educated women have higher survival rates, better health and nutrition, and are more likely to succeed in school. In order to promote prosperity and a better life for families in the developing world, we must make education and literacy among women and girls a priority.

So what needs to be done? It is estimated that in order for all children to attend primary school by 2015 - a goal that the United States and 163 other nations adopted in 2000 - international donors need to provide an additional $5.6 billion annually for basic education. If the United States were to double support for international education from $400 million to $800 million, we will give millions of children access to school and education's promise of higher earnings, better health and longer life, while inspiring other donor nations to honor their education commitments.

After outlining these four steps, its important to note that the United States can have an enormous and positive impact on nations in need. However, the formula for success must include close coordination with the recipient nation as well as other donors and multilateral development organizations. The best aid programs are those that have substantial buy-in from the local policy makers and are met with a commensurate commitment to sound economic policies, social services, education, and a strengthening of political institutions.

The United States can also have a significant impact on reducing poverty by reducing our agriculture subsidies. The current round of negotiations at the World Trade Organization (WTO), commonly known as the Doha Round, centers on helping the developing world compete in the new era of globalization. The next round of discussion will focus on reforming the agricultural subsidies systems in developed countries, in particular the countries of the European Union and the United States. These reforms are critical if we are to bring the developing world into an equal playing field. These agricultural subsidies systems harm developing nations who are trying to create viable domestic agricultural industries. For example, Australia and New Zealand ended their agricultural subsidy programs and their agricultural production actually went up. The United States should take the bold initiative in the next WTO discussion and push for deep agricultural subsidy reforms sooner, rather than later.

I applaud President Bush's creation of the Millennium Challenge Account (MCA), a fund that would provide a $5 billion per year to a select group of countries that meet certain standards, including attacking corruption, respecting human rights, adhering to the rule of law, investing in health and education, encouraging economic freedom and maintaining sound budget policies. While not fully funded, the President has recently called for increasing the funding level for this important aid program. The Administration and Congress must recognize the importance of this program and fully fund it. Congress, in particular, needs to make a greater commitment to the program. The stakes are high and this program should not fail for lack of commitment and funding. Its failure will not only undermine our influence throughout the world, but will also discourage other partners from making good on their pledges.

The United States must adopt a plan to alleviate poverty and eliminate extreme global poverty that coordinates and leverages all of the tools in this fight, from international aid to trade and debt relief. The plan would incorporate current aid programs, like the MCA, and would ensure consistency with our foreign policy goals. Recently, I introduced a bipartisan bill with Representative Spencer Bachus from Alabama called the Global Poverty Act of 2005. This important piece of legislation requires the President to develop a comprehensive strategy to vastly reduce global poverty and eliminate extreme global poverty and report back to Congress on its progress. This plan should include foreign assistance, foreign and local private investment, technical assistance, public-private partnerships and debt relief. The bill declares that the reduction of global poverty and the elimination of extreme global poverty are a priority of U.S. foreign policy and that the U.S. should work with all the players involved in this fight, including developing and donor countries and multilateral institutions to coordinate policies to address global poverty.

I recently participated in the German Marshall Fund's Trade and Poverty Forum in Nagoya, Japan. Through my work on these issues, I'm convinced that trade remains an important tool used to combat poverty. Economic engagement provides the developing world with better opportunity and the potential of real prosperity. However, trade is not, by itself, the answer. For generations, many international institutions have focused aid and technical advice on encouraging developing nations to cut taxes, open markets and scale back social service programs as a way to advance their economies and enter the global marketplace. The result is that, in many nations, there is no middle class, a limited educational system and no welfare or social safety net. Capitalism alone does not alleviate global poverty.

As nations work to enter the world economy, these social safety nets are an important part of giving their citizens a fair chance at participation. The reality is that unless developing nations have a viable tax base, grow a middle class, have in place a real legal and judicial system, have credible government and political processes and a vibrant civil society, they will never move into a more prosperous place in the world.

Global poverty is a destabilizing force around the world. Security is threatened, not only abroad, but at home. Through our efforts in combating global poverty, we can reduce the sense of hopelessness that drives so many extremist organizations like the al-Qaida network.

We need to take action now and our nation must make a greater commitment to poverty alleviation. We must view these efforts not only morally necessary, but also as an investment that can foster global stability and security, build alliances throughout the world and reduce the sense of hopelessness for billions of people around the world. The time to act is now and the United States must be a leader in the fight on global poverty. I pledge to work with my colleagues in Congress and with NGOs around the world in continuing to build on the momentum that has been created and to push the United States, as the lone superpower, to take a leading role in this endeavor. We have the resources and, now, we must have the will to make a difference.


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