A Fitting Challenge

With more than 120,

With more than 120,000 participants, the World Social Forum—held this winter in Porto Alegre, Brazil—resembles a sea of humanity locked in vibrant discourse. The gathering loosely ties together the various threads of what has become a multifaceted movement to build a radically more democratic, peaceful, and just world. The Global Call to Action Against Poverty—a worldwide alliance committed to making world leaders keep their promises on initiatives against poverty—in 2005 represented one of the most visible initiatives at the forum.

This is a pivotal year due to British Prime Minister Tony Blair’s decision to make global poverty and Africa the focus of this summer’s G8 meeting. The July meeting, to be held in Scotland, brings together heads of state from the world’s wealthiest countries. In September, the United Nations will host a summit of world leaders to review five years of progress in achieving the Millennium Development Goals.

The Millennium Development Goals, signed by more than 189 world leaders in 2000, commit both developing and developed nations to lift half of the 1.2 billion people in the world living on less than $1 a day out of abject poverty by the year 2015.

Based on current projections, many of the most impoverished parts of the world are way off-track in reaching the poverty-reduction goals. The U.N. Development Programme estimates that at the current pace, Sub-Saharan Africa would not reach the goal until 2147.

THE GOALS ARE nothing more than sounding brass and clanging cymbals, adding to a graveyard of previously broken promises to address global poverty, unless a massive mobilization of civil society generates an unprecedented degree of political will. Surprisingly, faith voices were relatively underrepresented at the forum. Our voices will be critical for bringing a religious and moral urgency to the realization of the goals.

The goals have been criticized for their modesty, especially in comparison to previous promises that were made during U.N. summits on women, population, and sustainable development. Several groups, particularly from the global South, have expressed concerns that the campaign is overly driven by Northern-based organizations.

But the agenda to increase aid, achieve 100 percent debt cancellation, and reform the starkly unjust trade system has the potential to breathe new life into the cause of eradicating poverty. The unconscionable, largely illegitimate debt owed by impoverished countries to Western creditors and the broken rules of our global trading system represent real structural impediments that keep millions of the world’s people impoverished.

Religious and civil society advocates must ensure that dramatic increases in aid and debt cancellation are not tied to negative economic conditions that keep countries subservient to commercial interests. We must also ensure that in addition to phasing out unfair subsidies, particularly on agriculture, developing countries must be able to exercise their right to choose a development strategy that fits their needs and that rectifies what is now an unequal playing field.

The G8 summit provides a critical political moment to achieve real breakthroughs on debt cancellation as well as on aid and trade. Both the United States and the United Kingdom have agreed in principle to 100 percent debt cancellation, heeding the call of the global Jubilee campaign to break the chains of debt. However, G8 countries are now quibbling over how best to finance deeper relief. The International Monetary Fund can afford to sell $35 billion worth of its gold reserves to cancel the debt of more than 30 countries without affecting its credit rating. Only a groundswell of public pressure will keep our politicians accountable to these promises.

At the Brazil forum, a speaker from Kenya ended her address with the words "Karibu Assana," which in Swahili means "the world belongs to us." These prophetic words represent a fitting challenge to all of us as Christians, who are called to serve as agents of both salvation and liberation in this world. Hunger, poverty, and disease represent "silent tsunamis" that claim thousands of lives across the developing world each and every day. Realizing the millennium goals requires each of us to break the lethal silence that surrounds global poverty, moving us a step closer to following God’s will here on earth.

Adam Russell Taylor is director of campaigns and outreach at Sojourners.

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