Debt relief can be an essential step in ending poverty. But we must not stop there. We should strive for nobody to be left in extreme poverty. For the first time in human history, it is possible. The question is can we work together to make it happen?
I am very pleased to be here with you today. We meet to discuss the biggest moral issue that faces us – the fact that in a world of ever growing wealth and plenty, 1 in 4 of the people who are alive today live in abject poverty.
I have been greatly impressed by the contribution of the churches – all the churches – to the campaign for the relief of unpayable debt for the world’s poorest countries. I very much welcome the Lambeth Conference resolution and especially its linkage of debt relief to poverty reduction. I believe this is important. We should not call for debt to be relieved if the result would be more spending on arms or palaces or corruption. We must link debt relief to poverty reduction and the Lambeth resolution recognises this.
The proposal I wish to put to you today is that we should seek to construct an alliance – a world-wide alliance – of people of faith and moral purpose to ensure that we commit ourselves to the elimination of extreme poverty from the world during the next century.
We are living at a time of great opportunity. Too often people who speak about development focus only on the desperate and widespread suffering of the poorest parts of the world. There is no doubt that there is desperate suffering. But it is also true that more human beings have escaped from poverty in the past 50 years than did so in the previous 500 years. More children are educated, more people have health care, live longer and survive childbirth than ever before. The recent crisis in Asia and Russia has set back these advances but has not reversed them.
But there is a paradox here. There are more human beings alive than ever before and so, although the proportion of people living in extreme poverty has dropped, the numbers have grown. And because the suffering that results from extreme poverty is experienced by individual human beings, the amount of suffering has grown.
This is the challenge. The world now knows clearly what needs to be done to systematically reduce poverty. We have a series of targets which have been agreed by the governments of the world at the great UN Conferences of the 90’s and recently reaffirmed by the G8 leaders in Birmingham. The aim is to halve the proportion of people living in abject poverty by 2015.
You may ask why only halve. This is because this is a serious target which is affordable and achievable. There are currently 1.3 billion people living in absolute poverty. But world population is very young and therefore set to grow fast. To achieve this target, I billion people must escape poverty within 20 years. And then we must set another target. And thus it is within our grasp to remove for ever the condition of absolute poverty from the world before we are halfway through the next century.
There are various subsidiary targets – the implementation of which is essential to the halving of poverty. They include universal primary education, basic health care for all and environmental and health targets that require the provision of clean water and sanitation to all.
These targets provide a great opportunity. They were not plucked from the air. They are projections of what has been achieved in development. All the experts agree that they are affordable and achievable. Governments across the world have voted for them. We are the first generation of human beings that has the capacity to eliminate extreme poverty from the human condition. This great and noble goal is achievable. But it is not inevitable that it will be done. It is not clear that the world has the political will to implement the targets. What I want to ask of the Anglican Communion today is that you join in the battle to ensure that the world makes the great advance that is possible by helping to mobilise the world wide political will necessary to implement the targets.
To mobilise this will we must both mobilise the anger to demolish the injustice of this level of suffering. But we must also mobilise hope. Anger is just. But it is not enough. People need to know that enormous advance is possible. That all is not misery and despair. And I believe that if the people of the world knew that the elimination of abject poverty was possible within 50 years – they would say to us ‘for God’s sake let’s do it!’
I want to ask for the support of the people of faith across the world to take this message of hope to the people of the world. I would like to give one example of this hope.
It is difficult to imagine a country with more obstacles to eliminating poverty than Mozambique. Its colonial rule was extractive and brutal. Its fight for independence was a struggle against the former fascist regime in Portugal. Mozambique then turned to its friend during the independence struggle for its model of government. The Soviet model did very little for economic development. But then the country was overwhelmed by ten years of the most bloody civil war, fed by the apartheid regime in South Africa. By 1992, over 5 million people, a third of the population, had been forced to leave their homes. And now it is one of the poorest countries in the world: two-thirds of its people live on less than 35 pence a day.
Yet when I visited Mozambique just recently, I found a country full of hope. Most people are subsistence farmers, with small amounts of land, and the government is creating a framework where they can improve their lives by growing a little extra for cash. The economy is growing rapidly. More people are getting access to health and education. On behalf of the British people my Department is able to help, in part through projects on the ground, but also by straight-forward contributions to the budget, thus investing in a government that we can see is committed to eliminating poverty.
The churches played an important role in this upsurge of hope in Mozambique. Church people, the ordinary churchgoers, earlier welcomed refugees into their homes. Now churches have helped returning displaced people to re-establish themselves on their farms. The Swords into Ploughshares programme worked with village leaders to provide tools in return for guns handed in. Bishop Singulane, your Anglican bishop, has been a strong voice for peace and reconciliation. The hope in Mozambique demonstrates that the moral purpose and reach of the church can really help to create the conditions where the poorest people of the world are given a chance to uplift their lives.
Mozambique is also a heavily indebted country. The debt is a clear brake on the Mozambique government’s anti-poverty programmes. And we strongly believe the world must release the brake. My Department is strongly supporting faster debt relief for countries committed to poverty reduction. Next year Mozambique will get the biggest debt reduction yet under the current “HIPC’ initiative – by almost a billion pounds. This will not solve all the problems. But it will help.
The churches campaign on debt relief has been admirable and powerful. But there is a real danger that good people will believe that debt relief is the ‘magic bullet’ to end all poverty, and that debt is the cause of all poverty. This is untrue. We need a moral economics that is a truthful and practical economics. Debt relief should not go to all poor countries, it should support those committed to poverty eradication. It should not be unconditional and it is not better if it is unilateral. These are slogans. The truth is important. Debt relief is part of the answer but not the whole answer. Some very poor countries are not heavily indebted because they struggled to pay their debts. If debt relief is our only answer, they get no help. And some countries that have had debt relief need further help.
Uganda was the first to qualify. But we have subsequently announced our largest ever programme in Africa – £67 million over 5 years to help put in place a universal, quality primary education system. When debt has been relieved aid is still needed. And good governments need to borrow from the World Bank and other development banks to invest wisely for the development of their economies. The campaign on debt is very fine but if it ends up propagating simplistic and misleading solutions, it will not help to eliminate poverty.
As I have said, I want to ask you today to join in a world wide campaign to eliminate poverty. It is clear that this is possible. I can think of no finer way of marking the 2000th anniversary of the birth of Christ. One of his most loveable features was his love of the poor. 1he gospels are littered with his warnings to the rich and his love for the poor. He said that they would inherit the earth. I suggest that he would like us to set out to bring this about. May I put three points for your serious consideration.
First, have the faiths specific contributions to offer? I believe that the dialogue that the Archbishop of Canterbury has initiated between World Faiths and the World Bank has enormous potential. I am pleased to announce today a small grant of £25,000 to help to service this work. There are several areas where the faiths surely have experience and wisdom. For example, in the post-cold war world, war and conflict is increasingly breaking out in the poorest countries and making them poorer. Blessed are the peacemakers. The churches have a moral mission outside politics. They are often more trusted than politicians especially in areas of conflict. Of the 38 poorest countries in the world 20 are involved in conflict. The churches could help to resolve these conflicts. We must not stop at humanitarian relief. We must work harder to resolve the underlying conflict. Sudan today needs what Mozambique achieved yesterday.
My second point is about the reach of the churches. I am aware that there are diocesan links that bring British church people face to face with people in the poorest countries of the world – Birmingham with Malawi, Salisbury with Sudan. You have a crucial role of advocacy within Britain. You have a voice in education, in discussions on the national curriculum, and in the influence of the work of church schools. I am very pleased that I will be coming next Spring to the Churches’ Consultation on World Development that you are organising, under the promising heading of From the old into the new.” But it is very important that we are clear that development depends on good government in developing countries. Poverty is not all the fault of evil western Bankers. Corrupt dictators, weak and craven governments hold back their people across the world.
Our experience of successful development makes clear that reform works when developing countries lead it. History teaches us that pro-poor governments are rare in all our countries. It is much harder to be a good government that gives priority to the needs of the poor in a poor country than in an industrialised country. But without pro-poor government in the poorest countries, development does not succeed. We can work in solidarity with the poorest and most oppressed people of the world -those that live under oppressive and corrupt governments. We can extend charity and try to build a civil society that demands change. But this is not development. To achieve successful poverty eradication, there must be determined leadership in poor countries. The churches can help to spread the knowledge and the determination in all our countries to achieve that.
Finally, I want to ask whether the international campaign for debt cancellation can be broadened into an alliance to eliminate poverty? I was extraordinarily heartened by the many thousands of people who came to lobby the G8 Summit in Birmingham. But debt relief alone will not produce the result they seek. Debt relief can be an essential step in ending poverty. But we must not stop there. The biblical concept of jubilee itself goes far beyond debt – slaves were to be freed, land was to be restored, tools given to people. In short nobody was to be left in extreme poverty. That is what we should strive for – and for the first time in human history, it is possible. The question is can we work together to make it happen?