World Summit, Caviar, and Love Thy Neighbor
Is not this the fast that I have chosen? to loose the bands of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, and to let the oppressed go free, and that ye break every yoke? Is it not to deal thy bread to the hungry, and that thou bring the poor that are cast out to thy house? When thou seest the naked, that thou cover him; and that thou hide not thyself from thine own flesh? Then shall thy light break forth as the morning, and thine health shall spring forth speedily: and thy righteousness shall go before thee; the glory of the LORD shall be thy reward. - Isaiah 58:6-8
The United States, Canada, and Australia recently received condemnation by the Friends of the Earth International (FoE) at the of the United Nations earth summit in Johannesburg, South Africa. On the opening day of the United Nations World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD), being held through September 4, the FoE claimed these three nations made up an "axis of environmental evil" for declining to support international environmental agreements, and for promoting free trade. "Don't Let Big Businesses Rule the World" say FoE banners at the summit.
Attacks have come from other sectors as well. South African President Thabo MBeki described the gap between wealthy and poor countries as a "global system of apartheid", revealing his view that poor countries are poor because rich countries are rich. "Trade for hundreds of years has benefited the developed world at the expense of the developing world" said Anton Boonzaier, a South African environmentalist.
Class envy and anti-capitalist sentiments seem to pervade Johannesburg this week as politicians from around the globe gather to discuss poverty and the environment, ironically while tipping back brandy and devouring lobster and Beluga caviar. The truth is that these ill-placed emotions will do little to stop the true problems of poverty and environmental destruction that this world summit hopes to address.
Poverty around the world is a serious problem. Billions of human beings live without safe drinking water or proper sanitation. Disease and hunger kill millions of children a year. Too many people piece together houses from scrap metal and other people's garbage just get by - without any electricity, medical or dental care, education, or hope for a better way of life.
Impoverished nations are also less able to deal with environmental concerns than are wealthy nations, and economic health and prosperity tend to bring both environmental consciousness and the means to clean up environmental problems. "Poverty, not wealth, is one of the biggest threats to the Earth's ecological health," explained Patrick Moore, head of the environmental advocacy group Greenspirit. "They have no money left to reforest, they have no money left to prevent soil erosion, there is no money to clean their water after they make it dirty."
There is a tendency to blame rich countries for the poverty of poor countries. However, even according to the United Nations' data, trade greatly benefits the economies of developing countries, and the poverty of a multitude of developing countries today stems primarily from war, the corruption and poor management in their governments, and complications such as famine and disease.
The FoE can deride America, Canada and Australia for not signing invasive international treaties. However, while one of the world's most industrialized nations, the U.S., for instance, also has recycling programs in a multitude of cities, clean drinking water, sewage treatment facilities, reforestation programs, emissions testing, strict guidelines for industrial waste and a highly environmentally aware citizenship.
Also, considering the results of the last Earth Summit held in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil 10 years ago, there is little promise that a meeting of politicians will do much good to truly bring the reforms needed to deal with the stated problems. Ten years after the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio, Brazil is still losing more than 6,000 square miles of jungle a year to burning and cutting and China's cities are still among the most polluted in the world.
President Bush is not attending the conference in Johannesburg and has sent Secretary of State Colin Powell instead. The President already outlined his plans for dealing with the problem of world poverty at the U.N. conference in Monterrey, Mexico this March. He committed the United States to increase development assistance by $5 billion over the next three budget cycles - in the forms of grants and not loans that can never be paid back. However, he argued that the money would only go to countries that showed certain positive qualities. Dumping money into corrupt regimes is a waste and can do more damage than good because it delays reform and helps prolong bad policies. However, he explained the U.S. would be awarding development assistance grants to nations that honor human rights and root out corruption and insist on policies that follow the rule of law - where people "can start and operate a small business without running the gauntlets of bureaucracy and bribery."
The U.S. will work to fight AIDS and other diseases that ravage poor nations, and to offer education and training that will improve the ability of the people of poor nations to work on development within their nations. The U.S. will support trade and helping countries build up economies that will draw foreign investment; this will provide far more funds for development than simple international aid, and will create a self-sufficiency in those nations that will help them no longer need foreign aid. According to the President, "The evidence shows that where nations adopt sound policies, a dollar of foreign aid attracts $2 of private investment."
Even while world governments debate in Johannesburg these ten days, private organizations have already been doing great amounts of good in helping the cause of the poor for decades. Groups like World Concern and Samaritan's Purse help communities get through the devastation of natural or man-made disasters. Others like Compassion International touch millions of individual children and their families, providing food, clothes, education, health care, and introducing Jesus Christ to these valuable people. These children then grow up with the tools to help their own communities. According to Compassion , "We've seen that changed circumstances rarely change people's lives, while changed people inevitably change their circumstances." Governments will bicker about international policy, but common people like us have the opportunity to directly help suffering people through one of many organizations who are actively loving our neighbors. The Christian Services Charities link below provides information on a wide variety of such ministries.
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