July 1, 2005


Ridding Africa of poverty

The world has a chance to eradicate poverty in our poorest countries for a fraction of what the United States is spending to try to bring democracy to the Middle East. We will know on July 6-8 whether the developed countries have the will to do so.

Those are the dates when the leaders of the G-8 nations (the United States, Britain, Germany, France, Japan, Italy, Canada and Russia) will meet in Edinburgh, Scotland. As we reported on page one of our June 17 issue, British Prime Minister Tony Blair, chairman of the G-8, is campaigning to have those leaders approve a plan to eliminate poverty in impoverished nations, especially in Africa.

The finance ministers of the G-8 countries have already agreed to write off more than $40 billion of debt owed by 18 of the world’s poorest nations—debts that they have no chance of repaying. Just paying the interest on the debts is keeping those nations in poverty. But at least 62 impoverished countries need to have their debts canceled.

We have editorialized several times about the importance of canceling those debts. The Catholic Campaign Against Global Poverty, a joint project of Catholic Relief Services and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, has encouraged the government to cancel the debts that poor countries owe to the World Bank and other institutions.

James Morris, executive director of the United Nations World Food Program and former president of Indianapolis-based Lilly Endowment, spoke at the archdiocese’s Spirit of Service Awards dinner on April 26. He described the pitiable conditions in poor countries. He said that there are 850 million hungry people in the world, and 300 million of those are children. About 25,000 people a day die from hunger, he said, and about 18,000 of them are children.

Africa isn’t the only place where people are suffering from poverty. Haiti and Jamaica come to mind immediately. Catholic Relief Services ia helping alleviate poverty there as well as other countries in this hemisphere.

The late Pope John Paul II frequently called for the canceling of debts.

When Blair said, during his meeting with President Bush at the White House on June 7, that he intended to have an agreement to eliminate debts, the president said that the United States would contribute an additional $674 million. Presently, the U.S. is contributing $3 billion a year to Africa. We could do much better.

When Blair made his announcement, the author of this editorial was in Ireland. The newspapers and TV there were full of the story, mainly because two Irish rock stars, Bob Geldof and U2’s lead singer, Bono, have long been leaders in the campaign to cancel debts. Geldof now is planning a series of concerts, starring some of the world’s best-known performers, to raise awareness of African poverty.

Bono, who met with Pope John Paul II several times about this issue (the pope even posed wearing a pair of Bono’s stylish sunglasses once), spoke in Brussels, Belgium, on June 9. He challenged leaders of the European Union to take advantage of the momentum building in support of debt relief and development aid. It seems strange that we need rock stars to take the lead on this issue, but more power to them.

While in Ireland recently, this writer also visited the Strokestown Famine Museum with its exhibits about the Irish potato famine from 1845-51. The museum exhibits ended with a reminder that people are still starving in our world today and, by not doing more to eradicate hunger, we in the developed world are responsible for a huge number of deaths in the developing world.

That doesn’t have to be. As James Morris said at the Catholic Social Services dinner, if $5-7 billion a year were placed toward ending child hunger, it would end. And, as we said in an editorial in our Feb. 25 issue, Jeffrey Sachs, an economist at Columbia University, has estimated that we could save a million lives a year by spending $2-3 billion on providing medicines that cure malaria.

Pray that the G-8 leaders will do the right thing on July 6-8.  

— John F. Fink

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