Too much talk of poverty and aid

Knowledge brokering21 Sep 2010Francine Mestrum

UN summits follow a more or less predetermined route. Heads of state and government and heads of major international organizations all come and make their declarations. In most of them, there is nothing really new or interesting. Now and then, however, some interesting sentences come out in official declarations and in side events.

Let me mention three after this first day of the summit.

First of all, Ban Ki-moon, secretary-general of the UN, clearly pointed to the need to look beyond poverty and tackle inequality, development and environmental problems.

Secondly, Supachai Panitchpakdi, head of UNCTAD, said: ‘Countries should be allowed to determine their own destiny, as well as their policies and spending, in line with local needs and conditions. Historically, this has been the experience of all industrialized nations, and this is still relevant today’. He then pointed to the need to reposition the MDGs in a broader development framework.

And finally, Nicolas Sarkozy, who said the world needed global taxes. Now, obviously, the tax Sarkozy envisages will not be able to solve all problems. In his eyes, it is only to help meet the MDGs and reduce poverty; Sarkozy does not consider development or inequality. Nevertheless, it is very important that a head of state, and future chairman of the G20 and the G8, officially asks for global taxes.

This summit is an excellent opportunity to stress once again the different demands of several UN organizations and of civil society: policy space, global taxes, a focus on economic and social development, the need for environmental justice. If these can become the points on which all development partners, including the NGOs, work in the coming years, then yes, this summit will have been extremely useful.

The debate goes far beyond poverty and aid. Too often, people in rich countries forget that the rights they so rightly claim for themselves are rights that people in other countries are also entitled to. All too often, it seems as if charity and philanthropy are all the third world needs, because that is what people in rich countries are ready to give.

But the example of Pakistan, and the need for humanitarian aid there, clearly shows that more is needed. Is it acceptable that the survival of millions of people depends on the willingness of individual citizens in rich countries to give some money? We all say ‘no’, but then we also need to think further and envisage structural and centralized ways of providing help, for natural catastrophes as well as for the provision of global public goods.

We should therefore look beyond Millennium Development Goals, poverty and traditional aid, and start a serious debate on how to organize the future global cooperation.