The extent of global poverty is staggering: more than 3.5 billion people live on less than $2 a day. 1.2 billion people live without access to safe drinking water. Of the world’s approximately 40 million people living with HIV/AIDS, more than 93% live in developing countries. Nearly 800 million people do not get enough food, and about 500 million people are chronically malnourished. More than a third of children are malnourished. Not only is this morally unjust, it leads to a more unstable world and a weakened global economy. Our nation, and the world, must do more to confront this problem.
In the coming weeks, I plan to introduce a bipartisan measure that will help raise awareness of global poverty and also renew our nation’s commitment to helping eradicate poverty. The resolution calls on the United States to take a number of concrete steps toward the goal of combating extreme global poverty. These include pursuing greater debt relief and overall foreign development assistance levels, better coordination of poverty reduction efforts with the international community, and enhancing our efforts on HIV/AIDS and children’s health, potable water and access to basic education.
There is a better way to work with the developing world. For generations, international institutions provided aid and doled out technical advice encouraging developing states to cut taxes, open markets and scale back social service programs in order to enter the global marketplace. As a result, in many states, there is no middle class, a limited education system and no welfare or social safety net. These needs must be met if developing nations are to prosper.
Addressing poverty is the right thing to do, but make no mistake, doing so is also in our national and security interest. Those living in extreme poverty are susceptible to extreme rhetoric and are more likely to join with terrorist groups seeking new recruits. Building prosperity in the developing world will enhance our standing in the world and help bring hope to those who could otherwise sympathize with terrorist organizations.
Also, as the most trade dependent state in the nation, Washington State has a direct stake in whether developing states do well. Trade, aid and capacity building will help create a middle class in poverty stricken regions and also develop new markets for American goods.
To rebuild these societies, the United States must partner with the Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) community that provides important institution-building counsel to developing states – it’s just not enough to simply provide aid or preach the value of the free market. The Pacific Northwest is fortunate to be the home of NGOs dedicated to this very purpose. The work these groups are doing – from providing microcredit loans, to improving global health care – is both innovative and making a real difference. They are one important ingredient in the fight against poverty.
I recently participated in the Trade and Poverty Forum in Nagoya, Japan, sponsored by the German Marshall Fund. Through my work on these issues, I’m convinced that trade remains an important tool used to combat poverty. Economic engagement provides the developing world with better opportunity and the potential of real prosperity. However, trade is not, by itself, the answer.
Governments must do the hard work of building real economic infrastructure. This includes, among other things, developing an effective education system, providing water and sewer and making access to health care a priority.
Education is one of the most significant tools for reducing poverty. Education not only improves people’s health, income and productivity, it also empowers them to create a civil society that leads to better government and greater involvement in our global economy.
Access to potable water is fundamental to economic growth and healthy living. Roughly 4,000 children die each day of diarrheal diseases caused by poor sanitation and contaminated drinking water.
Developing states must stand up a public health infrastructure. Without such a system, global health concerns will further contribute to extreme global poverty. Diseases such as SARS, Asian bird-flu, HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria are enormous challenges and have a disproportionate impact on the poor. Those who are sick cannot participate in child care, commerce or education. The economic impact – not to mention impact on families and communities – is staggering. Also, as travel and contact among nations is increasingly common, the developed world can no longer consider itself protected from such disease. It’s clear that without progress on this front, the effort to reduce poverty is nearly impossible.
We must make a greater commitment to poverty alleviation and view these efforts as an investment that can foster global stability and security, build alliances throughout the world and reduce the sense of hopelessness that drives so many extremist organizations like the al Qaeda network. With the proper political and social will, we can reduce global poverty.