By Evangelos A. Calamitsis 1
Archdiocesan Advisory Committee on Science and Technology
Presented at the 38th Biennial Clergy-Laity Congress of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America
Nashville, Tennessee, July 19, 2006
Introduction and Background
Alleviating world poverty is one of the greatest challenges of the 21st century.
Despite the remarkable advances made in human welfare, particularly over the last 50 years or so, poverty is still widespread in our “global village.” In the developing world, millions of people go relatively hungry every day, with dire consequences; and millions of children are not in school. Every year, more than 10 million children under the age of five die of readily preventable diseases; and half a million women die while giving birth. In sub-Saharan Africa, it is estimated that some two million people died of AIDS last year. As such, poverty is a source of great concern, not only for economic, social and political reasons but for ethical and moral reasons as well. Hence it is essential to better understand and evaluate poverty, analyze its causes, and develop ways and means of addressing its various dimensions.
Although there has been much debate about the appropriate definition of poverty, there is no doubt that deprivation from basic needs is at the core of this phenomenon.
Poverty is characterized by malnutrition or hunger, lack of adequate clothing, and insufficient shelter. It is also characterized by inadequate education, health care, and clean water and sanitation. But poverty has less materialistic dimensions as well; as many analysts have emphasized, poverty entails vulnerability, powerlessness, and social exclusion. Thus, poverty is multidimensional; it can be viewed narrowly or broadly, though the more encompassing the definition the harder it is to measure.
The most common method used to measure poverty is based on income or consumption levels, which have the advantage that the required data are generally available. An individual is defined as poor if his or her consumption or income level falls below some threshold needed to meet basic needs, which is called the “poverty line”. As basic needs vary among countries, poverty lines differ. But when estimating poverty worldwide, the same poverty line has to be used and expressed in a common unit across countries. For this reason, the World Bank has adopted an approach using international poverty markers set at $1 a day
and $2 a day, respectively, with income of less than $1 a day representing the threshold of extreme poverty. On this basis, which is now widely used, it is estimated that in 2001 about 1.1 billion people, out of a world population of some 6 billion, lived on less than $1 a day; and 2.7 billion people lived on less than $2 a day (see annexed Tables 1 and 2). On its part, the United Nations Development Programme has adopted a broader measure of human welfare, which integrates income, life expectancy, and literacy into a Human Development Index.
2. Perspectives and Trends
Poverty has always been an integral part of mankind’s experience. It has been highlighted and lamented in many of the greatest works of art, literature, economics, philosophy, and religion. In our times, it has been brought sharply into our consciousness through television and other mass media. For example, we have often witnessed vividly on our screens or read in our papers about the plight of poor people from West Africa, navigating the rough waters of the Atlantic on small boats, in their search for refuge and a better life in Europe. Yet, all of this suffering, and often death, is taking place against the backdrop of great prosperity in many parts of the world. This has led some commentators to suggest that the persistence of extreme poverty in the midst of plenty is a source of many other world problems, including organized crime, illegal immigration, the spread of disease, and, even, terrorism.
What have been the trends in human welfare? At the global level, during the last five decades, there have been enormous gains in economic and social well being, driven largely by the remarkable expansion of international trade and capital flows, as well as by the extraordinary advances in information and communication technologies. Indeed, over this period, global per capita income has more than tripled in real terms, and much of the world has registered major improvements in literacy and life expectancy. Since the early 1980s, many developing countries have made impressive economic strides, even faster than developed countries, as they took advantage of world markets and expanded trade within the framework of growth-oriented reform programs. In this way, substantial progress has been made in reducing overall poverty. According to Work Bank estimates, the proportion of the population of the developing world living in extreme poverty (or on less than $1 a day) was almost halved over the period 1981-2001, falling from some 40 percent in 1981 to 21 percent in 2001.
But these improvements have been far from even, and hide large regional differences. The inroads in overall poverty reduction have been largely attributable to rapid economic growth in China and to a much lesser extent in India, by far the world’s most populous nations. By contrast, in sub-Saharan Africa the share of the population living in extreme poverty increased from about 42 percent in 1981 to 46 percent in 2001, as the number of poor people virtually doubled to more than 310 million. Other regions, including the transition economies of Europe and Central Asia, as well Latin America and the Caribbean, also registered increases in poverty.
The basic question often asked, therefore, is what are the causes of the inadequate economic progress or stagnation of so many nations and communities and the increase in poverty? According to some economists, many poor countries have lagged behind the rest of the world for reasons largely beyond their control, such as poor physical endowments and adverse geographic and climatic conditions. It has been argued that because of resource limitations, geographic isolation, low technological productivity, and a very high disease burden these countries are trapped in poverty. But other economists have emphasized that there is no systematic evidence supporting the empirical relevance of poverty traps. After all, despite geographic and other limitations, many countries in Asia and Europe have prospered. This suggests that other causes, particularly domestic factors and policies, are more important in explaining the lack of economic growth and the spread of poverty in many regions of the world. For example, for too many years, especially in the 1980s, inappropriate macroeconomic policies, structural policy failures, the neglect of basic health services, and corruption, as well as political instability and military conflicts, have plagued Africa’s performance.
3. Millennium Development Goals
Recognizing the seriousness of the development problems in Africa and other parts of the world, in September 2000 the leaders of 189 countries adopted the UN Millennium Declaration, committing their nations to a global partnership to reduce poverty, improve health and education, and promote peace, democracy, and environmental sustainability. In line with this unprecedented declaration of solidarity, world leaders undertook to achieve a set of eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), with specific targets, by 2015 or earlier. The MDGs call for (i) eradicating extreme poverty and hunger, with the principal target being to reduce by one half the proportion of people living on less than $1 a day between 1990 and 2015; (ii) achieving universal primary education; (iii) promoting gender equality and empowering women; (iv) reducing child mortality; (v) improving maternal health; (vi) combating HIV/AIDS, malaria, and other diseases; (vii) ensuring environmental sustainability; and (viii) developing a global partnership for development.
These millennium goals, which are clearly ambitious, received additional backing at the UN Conference on Financing for Development that was held in Monterrey, Mexico, in March 2002; and also at the World Summit on Sustainable Development that took place in Johannesburg, South Africa, in September 2002. Earlier, in Doha, Qatar, in November 2001, trade ministers pledged to make every effort to support the interests of poor countries in the context of the new round of multilateral trade negotiations, now known as the Doha Round.
In light of recent experience, and consistent with the Millennium Declaration, in 2001 African countries launched their own development initiative, entitled the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD). Unlike previous plans, NEPAD is centered on African ownership and leadership of the development agenda, with African states and institutions assuming primary responsibility for addressing the existing development problems. At the same time, NEPAD calls for a new partnership between Africa and the international community, a partnership based on mutual obligations and accountability, with the objective of Africa’s development.
To attain the millennium goals, an increasing number of poor countries have intensified their reform efforts in the context of medium-term programs, based upon homegrown Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers (PRSPs), which form the basis for financial and technical assistance from the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Bank, and other creditors and donors. But as indicated in an assessment of these strategy papers and IMF concessional lending operations by the Fund’s own Independent Evaluation Office, achievements to date have fallen short of expectations, with economic growth remaining well below the path needed to realize the desired reduction in extreme poverty, let alone the other MDGs.
In this vein, the third annual Global Monitoring Report (for 2006), prepared jointly by World Bank and IMF staff, has emphasized that, despite some encouraging signs of progress, the world is still far from achieving the MDGs. And many countries, particularly in sub- Saharan Africa and South Asia, are off track on all the goals. While the goal of reducing extreme income poverty in half by 2015 is likely to be achieved at the global level, owing largely to the successful efforts of China and India, most countries will fall well short.2 As to the human development goals, the risks of failure are much greater and more pervasive. The prospects are most worrisome in the area of public health; on current trends, many countries will fall short of the goals of reducing child and maternal mortality, reversing the HIV/AIDS pandemic, and increasing access to sanitation. The prospects appear better in the area of education, but in a large number of countries the pace of progress is too slow to achieve the goals of universal primary education and gender equality in schooling. Selected social indicators of low- and middle-income countries are provided, together with comparable data for the European Monetary Union, in the annexed Table 3.
4. Policy Issues and the Need for Stronger Actions
Therefore, with less than 10 years to go until 2015, there is an urgent need to address these daunting challenges and accelerate progress toward the MDGs. Faster progress will require, first and foremost, stronger actions by poor countries themselves; but it will also require stronger, faster, and more comprehensive technical and financial assistance by the international community.
In view of the record of experience to date, there is no doubt that most poor countries have to broaden and deepen their economic, social, and political reforms if they are to achieve, or come as close as possible to achieving, the millennium goals. According to many development specialists, African and other poor nations should intensify their efforts to increase investment and boost total factor productivity so as to accelerate the growth of their economies to 7-8 percent a year; without such rapid and sustained growth, the warranted reduction in poverty will remain elusive. At the same time, well-targeted measures should be taken to promote better health and education, gender equality, and environmental sustainability. To be effective, reform programs have to be based on an open, transparent, and participatory approach that ensures broad ownership of the desired goals and the direction of policies; such an approach could be strengthened in the context of the preparation of truly homegrown PRSPs or similar national development strategies. More important, these programs have to be adequately ambitious, community driven, and rigorously implemented over the long haul.
But what are the essential ingredients of a more effective strategy to fight poverty? Clearly, some past policy recipes have been unsuccessful and will need to be abandoned or changed, as many critics have suggested. Ultimately, every country will have to formulate its own development strategy with a comprehensive program of action that best suits its own circumstances and needs. Hence, the mix and sequencing of policies and reforms will necessarily vary across countries, reflecting national and local priorities. However, there is broad agreement among academics and policymakers that many low-income countries will need to implement the following policies and reforms in order to come to grips with their development challenges and speed up progress in the fight against poverty.
a. Promote peace, democracy, and good governance, as well as strengthen institutional reforms. As political instability and tensions hinder the development of many poor countries, it is imperative for these countries to intensify their efforts, in cooperation with regional organizations and the United Nations, to prevent, manage, and resolve conflicts; ensure peace enforcement; and foster reconciliation and security. But even more important is the need to establish an enduring foundation for democracy and good governance by encouraging wide public participation in decision-making processes; strengthening parliamentary oversight of government activities; and ensuring the independence of the civil service, the judiciary, and the media. In this context, vigorous measures will also be required to fight corruption by enforcing the rule of law, as well as fostering transparency and accountability, notably with regard to government revenues and procurement policies.
To ensure steady progress in these critical areas, it will be essential to strengthen the effectiveness and credibility of existing institutions, not only those entrusted with safeguarding democratic processes and human rights but also those responsible for macroeconomic policies, public resource management, and financial development. It will also be essential to create or develop institutions better suited to the needs of the poor. For example, as most poor people do not have access to the formal financial sector, steps should be taken to promote well-structured microfinance institutions that could offer needed savings and credit facilities to this large segment of the population. The experience of such institutions in several countries, notably Bangladesh, Bolivia, Indonesia, Pakistan, and the Philippines, has demonstrated that they can sustain high loan recovery rates, cover costs, yield reasonable profits, and, above all, make a real difference in the lives of the poor.3
b. Consolidate sound macroeconomic conditions and improve competitiveness through appropriate fiscal, monetary, and exchange rate policies. In the area of budgetary policy, it will be important to create more “fiscal space” for allocating increased resources to pro-poor activities. Overall, however, fiscal deficits and government borrowing from the banking system should be limited, so as to provide greater scope for bank financing of the private sector and contribute to better monetary management and low inflation. External debt sustainability should also be preserved, inter alia by limiting recourse to external assistance to grants and concessional loans. Furthermore, all countries will have to be mindful of sustaining appropriate real exchange rates to facilitate their integration into the global economy, encourage investment, and foster export diversification and economic growth.
c. Invest in people, mainly through better health and education services. In view of the slow progress made in the area of public health in most poor countries, much greater efforts will be needed to strengthen health care systems and services; this would help control a number of preventable and treatable conditions, thereby reducing child and maternal mortality rates. Moreover, vigorous campaigns will be required to fight HIV/AIDS through comprehensive programs of prevention, testing, care, and treatment. Similarly, in line with the MDGs, intensified efforts should be made to boost basic education, especially for girls, so as to achieve universal primary education and eliminate gender disparities in primary and secondary schooling. But progress in education and training will also have to be broader and deeper to help poor nations bridge the digital divide, make better use of science and technology, and build administrative and managerial capacities.
d. Spur agricultural development and expand basic infrastructure. To increase productivity in the agricultural sector, where most poor people live, much more resources will have to be devoted to agricultural inputs, soil improvement and water management, as well as to agricultural research, extension services and training.4 In view of the large deficiencies in basic infrastructure, in both rural and urban areas, major investments will also be required in roads, ports, clean water and sanitation, power, and telecommunications.
e. Enhance trade liberalization and efficient regional integration. Although appreciable progress has been made in trade liberalization, poor countries could benefit greatly by opening up their economies more rapidly to each other and to the rest of the world. However, they also need greater access to industrial country markets.
f. Last but not least, foster private investment as the principal engine of sustained higher growth. To create and maintain an enabling environment for private investment will require not only rigorously implementing the above-mentioned policies and reforms but also liberalizing business and labor practices and nurturing a legal system that safeguards property rights, adequately enforces contracts, and protects healthy competition. Such an environment would encourage both local and foreign investors. But to attract more foreign direct investment (FDI), which can bring added benefits through transfers of technology and increased access to international markets, further specific measures would be helpful, such as increasing the areas of the economy open to FDI; encouraging foreign participation in the privatization of public enterprises; and promoting efficient public/private sector partnerships for the development of priority sectors.
The implementation of stronger domestic policies and reforms will go a long way toward improving conditions and prospects in poor countries. Yet, even in the best of circumstances, such efforts alone cannot ensure the required acceleration in economic growth and poverty reduction. For this reason, broad coalitions of religious leaders, rock stars, nongovernmental organizations, and other anti-poverty groups around the world have campaigned for more aid and debt relief to low-income countries. In their major reports published in early 2005, the UN Millennium Project and the Commission for Africa also called for substantial increases in both aid and debt relief to poor countries to help accelerate progress toward the MDGs, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa.5 As a result, following intensive consultations at high levels, broad agreement was reached on a renewed international drive to fight world poverty: initially, at the meeting of the leaders of the Group of Eight (G-8) major industrial countries6 in Gleneagles, Scotland, in July 2005; then at the UN Millennium Summit in New York in mid-September; and later in September at the Annual Meetings of the IMF and the World Bank in Washington. As part of this agreement, the international community has undertaken commitments in three key areas, including supplementing the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) Initiative with a new Multilateral Debt Relief Initiative (MDRI).7
a. Cancel multilateral debt. Following the landmark resolution of the G-8 leaders at the Gleneagles summit, steps have already been taken under the MDRI toward canceling 100 percent of the debt owed by eligible poor countries to the IMF, the International Development Association (IDA) of the World Bank, and the African Development Fund. Since early January 2006, when it started MDRI operations, the IMF has cancelled the debt of 21 poor countries, 15 of them in Africa, providing them with debt relief amounting to about $3.7 billion. On its part, the World Bank’s IDA has begun debt cancellation operations in July of this year, with 19 poor countries expected to be granted debt relief of as much as $37 billion. Eventually, all potentially eligible countries would get full debt relief, involving total multilateral debt cancellation of roughly $50 billion, which would reduce the debt service of these countries by around $1 billion annually.
Together with traditional debt relief and bilateral debt cancellation, this latest initiative will allow recipient countries to devote more resources for pro-poor spending. But it should be emphasized that these countries will need to implement sound policies and management systems to ensure effective use of available resources; while seeking additional financing to attain the MDGs, they will also need to exercise great care to avoid a new buildup of unsustainable debt.
b. Provide more and better aid. To boost the ability of poor countries to implement strong reform programs, the G-8 leaders also agreed at Gleneagles to increase the official development assistance (ODA) of rich nations by about $50 billion to some $130 billion in 2010, including doubling aid to Africa. Although this increase in ODA is to be welcomed, many development economists have emphasized that more aid is required more quickly, especially aid in the form of grants. In particular, the UN Millennium Project report has argued that, to meet the MDGs and other high-priority requirements, ODA should reach the long-standing UN target of 0.7 percent of the gross national income (GNI) of rich donor countries by 2015, which compares with only 0.3 percent of their GNI in 2004.
To achieve the requisite increases in ODA, much greater efforts relative to GNI will have to be made by the major donor countries, notably the United States and Japan. So far, only five donor countries (Denmark, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, and Sweden) have met or exceeded the goal of providing ODA equivalent to the UN target of 0.7 percent of GNI.
In addition, ODA should be made more predictable and its effectiveness should be improved by aligning aid with national poverty reduction strategies, simplifying procedures, and reducing the transaction costs of delivering aid. On their part, recipient countries should ensure that the increased aid flows are well managed and place no undue strain on local absorptive capacity and macroeconomic conditions.
c. Liberalize global trade. The international community has also emphasized that a successful conclusion of the Doha Round of multilateral trade negotiations is of great importance for global growth and poverty reduction. However, the negotiations have been suspended, because of large policy differences among developed countries (mainly the United States and the European Union), as well as between developed and major developing nations. Despite the encouraging statements made by G-8 leaders at their summit meeting in St. Petersburg, Russia, in mid-July 2006, the key players have not been able to break the deadlock in the negotiations in order to secure a global trade accord; this is urgently needed, so as to allow the U.S. administration to submit it to Congress before its trade promotion authority expires in June 2007. Most trade experts agree that a successful, pro-development round should include expanding market access substantially, especially for developing countries; phasing out trade-distorting agricultural and other subsidies maintained by rich nations; and opening markets in manufactures and services, including financial services. Meanwhile, independent of progress on the Doha Round, it will be important to increase aid for trade to enhance the capacity of developing countries to take advantage of expanded trade opportunities.
Finally, it should be noted that private foundations and civil society in rich countries have been playing an increasingly significant role in alleviating poverty, especially through well-targeted health and education programs. In this respect, the philanthropic work of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has been particularly important in helping to save lives and spread education; and the expected doubling of its assets through the generous support of Warren E. Buffett will help boost the foundation’s work in key areas, including possibly finding a vaccine for AIDS.
5. Moral and Ethical Concerns and Responses
The alleviation of poverty, both within and among nations, has been a major concern of all faiths for fundamental moral and ethical reasons. All established religions, especially Christianity, Judaism, and Islam, as well as Buddhism, Hinduism, and Confucianism, have stressed the importance of caring and providing for the poor as an integral part of their teachings on love, compassion, and solidarity. Traditionally, they have placed high value on charity for the poor as a matter of individual responsibility. But charity has also been viewed as a matter of collective responsibility of society at large. Furthermore, religious teachings have often advocated charity and other means of help to those in need irrespective of their beliefs and nationalities; this underscores the fact that poverty alleviation cannot and should not be constrained by national or other borders and frontiers.8
In the Christian faith, the Church has always included in its primary values concern for the plight of the poor and a call for action to help the needy. In this spirit, in his epistles to the Corinthians, Paul appeals to the faithful to imitate the selfless love of Jesus, and to give for the poor of the Church of Jerusalem, not grudgingly but with love and cheer. Moreover, Paul explains that even those who are not faithful should be accorded the care and charity of Christians.
The leading fathers of the Orthodox Church have also emphasized the importance of giving to the poor as a validation of the Christian message of the equality among all peoples and the need for philanthropic deeds. Thus, both St. John the Chrysostom and St. Basil the Great preached strongly in support of charity to the poor and care for the miserable. In those days, St. John founded a number of hospitals for people in need in Constantinople; and St. Basil created institutions for orphans and the poor, as well as hospitals, in Caesarea (Cappadocia), which came to be known as the “Basileias.”
In view of this long tradition, it is not surprising that the Church has joined the current anti-poverty movement by promoting the necessary dialogue among all interested parties, as well as by providing direct assistance to many poor countries. On its part, the Ecumenical Patriarchate has contributed importantly to this dialogue in various international fora, including the meetings sponsored by the World Bank’s Development Dialogue on Values and Ethics. The Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Alexandria and All Africa has made efforts, within its limited means, to bring comfort and assistance to poor African nations. The Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America has also supported these efforts by contributing to the consultative processes under the UN’s Economic and Social Council; sending short-term volunteers to help in carrying out various community projects; and assisting the Patriarchate of Alexandria and other churches in their anti-poverty work. In the context of the short-term volunteer programs, Orthodox Mission Teams, working in collaboration with UN agencies and local governments, are helping many poor communities around the world in establishing health clinics, building schools and churches, and developing agriculture.9 The Archdiocese of America is also financing the salaries of about one half of the Greek Orthodox clergy working in African countries.
However, despite the progress made so far, extreme poverty, malnutrition and disease are still widespread. Hence, as already emphasized, there is a need for stronger and more coordinated actions to make a real dent in poverty, in line with the MDGs.
6. Conclusions and Suggested Approaches
The fight against extreme poverty, malnutrition, and disease is one of the greatest challenges of our time. Although on current trends the majority of the MDGs are unlikely to be met by most developing countries by 2015, anti-poverty efforts need to be pursued not only for compelling economic, social and political reasons but, above all perhaps, for moral and ethical reasons as well. The renewed international drive launched in 2005 to fight world poverty has given more hope to millions of people around the world; thus, while world attention is now focused on the issues of high energy prices and widening global payments imbalances, it is imperative that the commitments “to make poverty history” be carried out in earnest.
Historically, the Church has been at the forefront of efforts to relieve the plight of the poor by placing high value on charity and other good deeds as matters of individual and collective responsibility. Therefore, the Church cannot but support the current initiatives of the international community by strengthening the ethical and religious underpinnings of the anti-poverty drive and by promoting and financing projects aimed at improving living conditions in poor countries. Underlying these efforts should be the Christian emphasis on spiritual assistance and a profound expression of love, which is not only manifested in material forms. But the Church, as it continues its own charitable efforts on an individual or parish level, should not lose sight of the international dimensions of poverty and the need for concerted efforts to alleviate its most serious manifestations. Accordingly, going forward, the Church may be guided by the following suggested approaches:
a. Although a growing number of poor countries are now implementing sound policies and reforms with considerable success, much greater efforts will be required over the next 10 years to accelerate progress toward the MDGs. To this end, many poor countries, especially in sub-Saharan Africa, need to strengthen their growth and poverty reduction strategies, intensify their reform efforts, undertake vigorous and unrelenting measures against corruption, and improve governance in all of its aspects. As often-emphasized in international fora, improving governance and fighting corruption are critically important not only for poor countries but also globally to help ensure more transparent, accountable and effective use of resources, and thereby achieve better development outcomes. But without peace and security, which are threatened in a number of low-income countries, such reform efforts may falter. These countries should therefore be encouraged to work intensively, in cooperation with regional organizations and the United Nations, to prevent, manage, and resolve conflicts; ensure peace enforcement; and promote reconciliation and security. At the same time, developed nations should support these efforts by contributing to peace enforcement, discouraging arms sales, cooperating in stamping out corporate graft, and assisting poor countries in retrieving stolen funds.
b. Within this framework, and as recommended by many development specialists, it is important for poor countries to deepen their institutional reforms; consolidate sound macroeconomic conditions and effective public resource management; promote human development through better education and health services, including a more vigorous campaign against the HIV/AIDS pandemic; spur rural development and strengthen basic infrastructure; enhance trade liberalization and efficient regional integration; and, on the basis of these policies and reforms, foster private investment as the principal engine of sustained higher growth.
c. As agreed in a number of major meetings since the adoption of the MDGs, the international community should match the efforts of reforming poor countries by providing them with stronger, faster, and more comprehensive support. In this respect, the international initiatives taken in 2005 to cancel the multilateral debt of all eligible poor countries and to provide more and better development assistance are especially welcomed.
d. The Multilateral Debt Relief Initiative should be carried out expeditiously by the IMF, the World Bank’s IDA, and the African Development Fund, thereby allowing eligible countries to devote increased resources for pro-poor spending.
e. Rich nations should fully implement the commitments they have made to increase ODA to developing countries by about $50 billion to some $130 billion in 2010, including doubling aid to Africa; such aid should be truly additional to debt relief and mainly in the form of grants. Over time, rich countries should raise their ODA levels much further to the long-standing UN target of 0.7 percent of their GNI. In addition, ODA should be made more predictable and its effectiveness should be improved, inter alia through an enhanced alignment of aid with countries’ poverty reduction strategies and priorities. External financial assistance should be channeled speedily to key priorities of poor nations, notably improving basic infrastructure and developing agriculture that can have an early significant impact on economic growth, as well as boosting education and combating HIV/AIDS and other diseases to help build human capital and strengthen growth over the longer run.
f. Technical assistance for building capacity and transferring know-how should be an integral part of bilateral and multilateral support to poor countries.
g. The Doha Round of multilateral trade negotiations should be resumed urgently, with a view to achieving a successful and adequately ambitious outcome that can make a critical contribution to global growth and poverty reduction. In this respect, trade negotiators of the major developed and developing countries should be strongly encouraged to make the necessary compromises to reach a pro-development accord in the near future, including expanding market access substantially, especially for poor countries, and phasing out the trade-distorting agricultural and other subsidies maintained by rich nations. Otherwise, the global trade talks could collapse, thereby weakening the multilateral rules-based trading system, contributing to a proliferation of bilateral and regional trade pacts, and rendering trade more difficult for exporters from poor nations.
h. Although international financial institutions, notably the World Bank and the IMF, have been making major efforts to alleviate world poverty, they still have much more to do. In particular, they need to further rationalize their operations in support of strong poverty reduction strategies; devote greater attention to debt management and sustainability issues; improve coordination of their programs in line with their comparative strengths so as to achieve better development results; and continue to adapt their technical and financial support to help poor countries catalyze and absorb more effectively other donor assistance, as well as attract private capital.
i. Private foundations in rich countries should pursue their increasingly important work in fighting poverty, including finding cures for fatal diseases, expanding health care and education programs, and spreading improved techniques to raise agricultural productivity.
j. On its part, the Church should seek to enhance its own pro-poor activities not only at the local level but also worldwide through a more active participation in international fora and through increased assistance to poor countries, especially in the areas of basic education and health care, in which the Church has had a traditional interest and its members have special talents. In this regard, the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America could play a prominent role by joining other faith communities in building stronger advocacy coalitions for achieving the MDGs; supporting, to the extent possible, the pro-poor efforts of other churches; and providing direct assistance to poor communities in sub-Saharan Africa and in the Americas. As part of this effort, an expanded volunteer program, in cooperation with UN agencies and local authorities, could contribute to further progress in alleviating poverty at the grass-roots level.
k. Finally, for all Christians, the exhortation of Christ must remain the fundamental motto of assistance to the poor: “as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me” (Matt. 25: 35-40). Love of our poor brothers and sisters, both spiritually and materially, is tantamount to love of Christ.
1Former Director, African Department, International Monetary Fund (IMF). I would like to thank Achilles G. Adamantiades, Anupam Basu, Michael T. Hadjimichael, Michael G. Papaioannou, and Paul Zamora for their very helpful comments and suggestions on this paper. The paper includes some updated information through early August 2006, mainly concerning the status of the multilateral trade negotiations.
2Moreover, even in a number of successful countries, some regions are likely to continue to have large concentrations of poverty, such as the inland western provinces of China, some of the southern states of Mexico, and the northeast region of Brazil.
3For a review and analysis of microfinance institutions, see Morduch, Jonathan, “The Microfinance Promise,” Journal of Economic Literature, Vol. XXXVII (December 1999); and de Aghion, Beatriz Armendariz, and Jonathan Morduch, “Microfinance: Where do we stand?” a paper prepared for the British Association for the Advancement of Science Meetings, September 2003, University of Salford, UK. Also, for the experience of African countries, see Basu, Anupam, Rodolphe Blavy, and Murat Yulek, “Microfinance in Africa: Experience and Lessons from Selected African Countries,” IMF Working Paper (September 2004).
4In this regard, it should be noted that the UN has been pioneering an approach designed to promote rural development and reduce poverty in a number of “research villages” in African countries through the implementation of a set of reforms, including using selected fertilizers and seeds to increase yields, improving water resources, establishing school feeding programs, and providing anti-malaria bed nets. Some initial results have been encouraging; but the continuation and expansion of this approach will require more external aid.
5Commission for Africa, Our Common Interest: Report of the Commission for Africa (London, 2005); and United Nations Millennium Project, Investing in Development: A Practical Plan to Achieve the Millennium Development Goals (New York, 2005).
6The G-8 members are Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States.
7Under the HIPC Initiative (first launched in 1996 and subsequently enhanced in 1999), involving coordinated action by both bilateral and multilateral creditors, debt reduction packages have so far been approved for 29 countries, 25 of them in Africa, providing them with debt-service relief over time amounting to $35 billion in net present value terms.
8For a discussion of religious teachings on poverty and charity, see Papaioannou, Michael G., “Poverty: Religious and Ethical Aspects,” a paper presented at the Seminar on Social Dimensions of Economic Science, Association for the Advancement of the Philosophy of Science, London, UK (June 1999).
9See Lila Prounis, “Archdiocese has Role in UN Development Projects,” Orthodox Observer (May 2006).