Making Poverty History

The Economist writes:

In 2005, poverty reduction is scheduled to dominate the global policymaking agenda as never before. First will come some visionary reports, led by Jeffrey Sachs’s study for the United Nations (in January) and Tony Blair’s Commission for Africa (probably in March). In July, if Mr Blair does not unexpectedly lose a British general election in the meantime, he will host a G8 summit of rich-country leaders which will focus on tackling poverty, especially in Africa. In September, the UN will hold a special General Assembly Summit to review progress towards the Millennium Development Goals agreed in 2000, which include a commitment to halve the proportion of the world’s population living in poverty by 2015. As progress has been slow, there are likely to be plenty of new initiatives and promises of fresh action. In December, it is hoped, the World Trade Organisation (WTO) meeting in Hong Kong will bring the year to a triumphant close with the announcement of a deal to further liberalise global trade in ways that should give a big boost to the economies of poor countries.

In economic terms, the human race has never been richer, or better armed with the medical knowledge, technological prowess and intellectual firepower needed to beat poverty. In rich countries, it has been possible to shift the focus of domestic policy from absolute poverty (now a rarity) to the relative sorta giant step forward. In poorer countries, too, the past couple of decades have seen an unprecedented rise in the income and standard of living of hundreds of millions of people, mainly in Asia, who no longer struggle just to survive from one day to the next. The continuation of recent rapid rates of economic growth in India and China alone promises to free hundreds of millions more from poverty during the coming decade.

Three main policy ideas are likely to top next year’s agenda: a big increase in aid from rich countries to poor; a massive write-off of poor-country debts; and trade liberalisation, especially for the agricultural products that are crucial to many poor economies, whose exports are now treated harshly by America, Japan and the European Union.

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Rajesh Jain

An Entrepreneur based in Mumbai, India.