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22 October 2001

Poverty

A plan for the world - Poverty

By Frank Judd

What we want

  • Economic and social security issues to be put on the agenda of the UN Security Council, with the IMF and the World Bank made accountable to it
  • Regulation of the arms trade
  • The Tobin tax
  • Significant increases in the aid budgets of wealthier nations
  • A genuine commitment to international development and the elimination of poverty remains a moral imperative: 1.3 billion people – a fifth of the world’s population – still struggle to survive on less than $1 a day. The plight of the most marginalised, including widows, children, orphans, bonded labourers, the disabled and women trapped in the slave trade, is so terrible that it is difficult to comprehend. All this remains a reality in an age of grotesque affluence and unbridled technological potential.

    The reform and strengthening of the UN and its agencies can no longer be regarded as an optional extra. It is central to a viable future for humanity. Indeed, a redefinition of security as envisaged in the remit of the Security Council is long overdue.

    Some commentators have argued for a new UN economic and social security council in its own right. The danger is that it would go the same way as the toothless Economic and Social Council, merely meeting in the wings. These issues should be put on the agenda of the Security Council itself, with international financial institutions such as the World Bank and the IMF expected to account to it. The logic of this approach will sooner or later demand embryonic international taxation, with at least some revenue going straight to the global institutions. This might well start with a tax (the Tobin tax is the usual model) on international currency speculation, despite the technical challenges in implementing it. Even a low rate of tax could produce considerable resources.

    There should be a concerted drive to persuade the wealthier nations of the world to follow the example of the UK by significantly increasing their aid budgets. It is lamentable that, by 1999, only Denmark, Norway, the Netherlands and Sweden had met the UN target of 0.7 per cent of gross national product for development aid.

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    The macro dimensions of development need to be reflected in detailed micro policies. The existing international development targets for 2015 include halving the proportion of the world’s population living in extreme poverty; reducing child and infant mortality by two-thirds; providing primary education for all children; and establishing sustainable development plans in all countries.

    But these have to be broken down into measurable operational plans for individual countries that, in aggregate, produce the right result. Without this discipline, good intentions will once more evaporate into rhetoric.

    Long-term development is repeatedly disrupted by conflict. Control of the international arms trade is indispensable. We should urgently be building on the European Union’s code of conduct.

    There must be regulation of the arms brokers, not just within their home countries, but wherever they operate. It will be inexcusable if this nettle is not at last grasped in the legislation currently before parliament. It will also be unforgivable if the legislation sees a weakening in resolve in order to “assist” new “allies” in the coalition against terrorism, whatever a more objective analysis might reveal about their real significance in terms of international stability. There should be a presumption of denial for arms exports to all countries in central Asia, south Asia and the Middle East unless there is demonstrable and overwhelming proof that such arms are necessary for self-defence.

    Either we are serious about development and the stability that is a prerequisite, or we are not. We are now, after all, at least in part reaping the results of past neglect and short-term opportunism. Justice and the search for durable peace demand that, in future, we must do better.

    Lord Judd was minister of state for overseas development, 1976-77