poverty

Take your place at the table

The 2010 Summit Tables are fast approaching and we need to make our voice heard so that the leaders will take bold action on climate change, poverty and economic justice. So far, previous commitments have not been met and this is unacceptable.

The G8 and G20 summit leaders need to hear our voices– we must be loud and numerous enough so that we are not ignored. We the people, together have power.

Please take a minute to look at the At the Table campaign and add your voice to the conversation.

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20 Years After the Fall

On November 9, the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall was celebrated around the world.  Many world leaders including Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, French President Nicolas Sarkozy and German Chancellor Angela Merkel were present at Brandenburg Gate, the former site of the “Iron Curtain” that separated West Germany from East Germany.

Supported by Communist Soviet Union, East Germany began building the Berlin Wall without warning, in August of 1961 to stop the hoards of East Germans who were fleeing to West Berlin.  What began as a makeshift barbed wire fence soon became a 156 kilometre long concrete wall that surrounded West Berlin and was guarded heavily against attempted escapes from East Germans.  In its twenty-eight year existence, more than 130 people are said to have been killed at the “Iron Curtain”.

On November 9, 1989, after weeks of civil unrest amongst Eastern Germans, it was announced on late night news (in a moment of confusion by a spokesperson of the government) that effective immediately, the Eastern German border was open to everyone.  Residents quickly lined up at the Brandenburg Gate, and the overwhelmed guards simply let them through without using lethal force.  East met West on the other side of the Berlin Wall, and citizens from both sides of the concrete barrier began to celebrate their freedom.

While the celebration that took place this year to commemorate this great event in history was a spectacle with all the bells and whistles, including giant coloured dominoes set up in queue along a 1.5 kilometre stretch where the Berlin Wall used to stand, it did little to take away from the reality that those living in Eastern Germany still suffer poverty and unemployment at much higher levels than their Western counterparts, and that basic freedoms and rights still escape millions of citizens of the world.

We should take the time to look at an event like the fall of the Berlin Wall and the great impact that the citizens of Eastern Germany had on putting into motion a stream of events that led to the reunification of Germany.  What a great example of how individuals can rise together to make a difference, and how easily governing bodies can turn these moments of freedom and celebration into legacies of poverty.  Perhaps the money that went into the lavish celebration of the 20th anniversary could have been better spent in rebuilding the Eastern states that are still struggling two decades after the fall of the Berlin Wall?  Just one girl’s thought…

by Heather Wilhelm

The United Nations Human Development Report 2009: A Very Brief Look

Written by Heather Wilhelm

On Monday, the United Nations (UN) released their Human Development Report (HDR) for 2009, ranking 182 countries into their respective places based on the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and Human Development Index (HDI) of these countries.  GDP is defined as the total market value of all final goods and services produced in a country in a given year, equal to total consumer, investment and government spending, plus the value of exports, minus the value of imports.  In layman’s terms, it measures a country’s economic performance on a yearly basis.  Since its inception in 1990, the HDR has reached beyond simply looking at a country’s GDP and has created the HDI which measures three dimensions of human development:  life expectancy, literacy and gross enrolment in education, and having a decent standard of living.  While it is easy to argue that these measurements are not an effective way to gauge the success or failure of a country in a numbered ranking system (what of gender, social services, child welfare), for the purpose of this article, let’s just look at the gross difference between those living at the top (Norway, Australia, Iceland and Canada ranked 1 through 4) and the bottom (Sierra Leone, Afghanistan and Niger in spots 180-182).

While it should be noted that this Report was created using 2007 statistics before the current economic crisis, it is still very apparent that there are stark disparities between those countries at the top of the list, and those at the bottom.  For instance, the average life expectancy in Niger is 50 years, which is a full 30 years less than the life expectancy in 4th place Canada.  For every dollar earned in Niger, eighty-five (85) dollars is earned in 1st place Norway.  It is believed that more than half the population in the lowest ranking 24 countries are illiterate.  These kinds of statistics put on paper what most students of global studies already know – we do not live in a world of equality and justice.  These yearly reports simply reiterate that while the privileged can expect to enjoy a long life with education and excellent standards of living the poor seem to be destined to remain in a position of poverty, illiteracy and shortened life expectancies.  I’ve provided a very brief background on the UNHDR for you, and I encourage you to click the link that follows and read a bit more on your own…the results will hopefully shock you back into reality – I know it always does for me.

Click here to view the full Human Development Report 2009.

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The Global Hunger Crisis – Why Haven’t We Made More Progress Towards the Millenium Development Goals?

Written by Heather Wilhelm

It is so easy to forget about the true state of the world when we live our day to day lives just going through the motions.  Here are some statistics to shock you back into reality:

~        1.02 billion people do not have enough to eat – more than the populations of USA, Canada and the European Union;

~        More than 60 percent of chronically hungry people are women;

~        Every six seconds a child dies because of hunger and related causes; and

~        Lack of Vitamin A kills a million infants a year.

When I read statistics like these, I actually find it very hard to believe that they are real.  How is it possible that I’ve lived 28 years never going hungry, and yet somehow during my regular 8 hour work day more than 4,800 children die of hunger-related diseases?  Women and children the world over continue to be the most disenfranchised individuals on the planet, and even the most well-meaning organizations, like the United Nations’ World Food Programme (WFP), are unable to help effectively.  A recent report from Reuters states that world food aid is at an all-time low despite the fact that the number of hungry people in the world soared to its highest level ever, with more than 1 billion people classified as lacking food.  The WFP has barely enough funding this year to help a fraction of these people, which is made more horrifying by the fact that it would take a mere 0.01% of the global financial crisis bailout package from the United States to solve the hunger crisis.  Priorities need to shift in Washington and in neighbouring developed countries, with the eradication of poverty and starvation not only in “third world” countries, but also right in their own backyards moving to the top of the list.

As per the WFP’s website, one of the possible solutions to the world hunger crisis is the implementation of the Millennium Development Goals, which are:

The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) are eight goals to be achieved by 2015 that respond to the world’s main development challenges. The MDGs are drawn from the actions and targets contained in the Millennium Declaration that was adopted by 189 nations-and signed by 147 heads of state and governments during the UN Millennium Summit in September 2000.

These eight development goals are:

Goal 1: Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger

Goal 2: Achieve universal primary education

Goal 3: Promote gender equality and empower women

Goal 4: Reduce child mortality

Goal 5: Improve maternal health

Goal 6: Combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases

Goal 7: Ensure environmental sustainability

Goal 8: Develop a Global Partnership for Development

The importance of the implementation of the MDG’s cannot be overlooked, but considering we are more than halfway through the fifteen year period that was allotted to make these development goals a reality, how much has really been accomplished?  If the WFP can say that 2009 saw more hungry people than ever before, clearly something is being done wrong.  In an attempt to look into progress reports, I found most sites to be sorely lacking (for instance, the United Nations Development Programme website’s section entitled “Implementation of the MDG’s” last shows an update in 2005), which is beyond discouraging.  The eight goals listed above are so basic, so simple and so easily achieved that is simply doesn’t make sense why there hasn’t been more progress reported.  As a society, we need to hold our government accountable for the commitments they made to the disenfranchised, poverty-stricken people of the world in 2000, and ensure that they are meeting the requirements set out for each country in helping to bring the Millennium Development Goals to fruition by the year 2015.  If you want to make sure they are held accountable, speak up, tell people what you’ve read here and make your voice heard.  Local government representatives aren’t just elected to sit around and look pretty – they are supposed to carry our voices and concerns up to Ottawa and Prime Minister Stephen Harper.  If there’s one country in the world that exemplifies the spirit of helping others, it’s Canada, so let’s make sure when 2015 rolls around, our country has done everything in its power to ensure the full implementation of the Millennium Development Goals.

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