Global poverty – The world in the poverty trap?
Dialogue forum on 24 January 2019
Over the last few decades, the global community has come a long way towards its goal of eradicating absolute poverty. Nevertheless, the problem remains and in many countries the uneven distribution of wealth and earnings is increasing. The 2019 dialogue forums on the theme of “Poor rich world” intend to shine a light on the various facets of poverty and its consequences.
In 2015, the United Nations adopted its 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda, vowing to end poverty in all its forms and dimensions. Its goal is for all people to enjoy a basic standard of living. According to German Green Party MP Uwe Kekeritz, the problem is mainly one of distribution: “There’s no point in trying to fight poverty and hunger if we can’t first reduce income disparity – it just won’t work”, says the deputy chair of the Committee on Economic Cooperation and Development.
The system promotes inequality
“This is a case of what we call institutionally organised greed”, adds theologian, philosopher and development expert Dr. Boniface Mabanza. He calls “scandalous” the amount of wealth that a few rich individuals have accumulated at the expense of the majority. “Current trade, debt and agricultural policies are increasing the chasm between the rich and the poor”, he says. According to estimates, a full US$ 1.4 trillion was illegally siphoned out of Africa between 1980 and 2012, which is more than all the aid and foreign investment that the continent received during the same period. Mabanza claims that 60% of these funds that leave Africa do so thanks to the creative accounting methods of multinational companies. His recommendation: “We have to take aim at the system itself, and show enough courage to question the economic order that creates such poverty, instead of merely tinkering with the symptoms.”
Learning to work with numbers
“Almost every country in the world has a rich upper class”, adds Mabanza. In Congo, for example, he claims that the number of millionaires has increased significantly in the last 20 years: “It is shocking to see how closely the rich and poor live to one another in the capital of Kinshasa.” Mabanza argues that many multinationals have secured mining concessions – often through bribery – at ridiculously low prices, ensuring that only a small number of people profit from them.
A major problem in the current debate and fight against poverty, according to Baten, is our fixation on scandals. He says that certain individual cases – although undoubtedly horrible in themselves – are assumed to be typical, and this is not always true. “I would prefer to see the media report more on everyday life in Africa, instead of just focussing on hunger and catastrophes,” adds Mabanza. People in Germany could then better understand the great potential that African countries actually have.
The UN’s goal to eradicate absolute poverty by 2030 is certainly challenging, even though poverty in many places in the world has indeed lessened over the past few decades. The way to achieve the goal is to reduce income inequality, which the development agency Oxfam makes clear in its annual report. Looking at Asia provides reasons to be optimistic. There, economic growth over the past couple of decades has allowed millions of people to rise up out of poverty towards the middle class.
The next dialogue forum will take place on 21 February on the topic of “Poverty Traps – When risk keeps you poor and poverty keeps you at risk”.