|Previous Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|
Lord Desai: My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lady Whitaker for initiating this debate which has attracted some good speeches, notably those of the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, and the noble Baroness, Lady Flather. I am also grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, as he said everything that I wanted to say about export subsidies and thereby saved me some time.
26 Jan 2005 : Column 1304
My noble friend Lady Jay mentioned that I am something of a sceptic about the proposal to have a Marshall Plan. I must admit that whenever someone mentions the Marshall Plan, I develop a tic. I tend to think, "Oh, my God, not again". Tobin taxes lead to a similar reaction on my part. My reaction is due partly to the fact that those things will not happen. We are not going to have a Marshall Planforget it. We have a G8 that cannot even forgive debt, the receipts of which mean nothing to the national income. More money in the form of Marshall Aid will not be doled out. As that is not going to happen, the self-flagellation should stop.
I am not arguing that aid is not effective, but to think that poverty will be eradicated by doubling the money is, I am sorry to say, lazy thinking. Poverty would be eradicated by giving small amounts of properly directed money to countries where it will work. Measuring things by inputs is wrong; one should measure achievement by outputs. I am very much of the opinion that debt forgiveness is absolutely essential. I hope that Gordon Brown will lock up the other members of the G8 in a room and say, "Unless you agree on debt forgiveness, you are not getting out of here", or something equally drastic.
It is very important that we do something drastic about trade. Between debt and trade we are taking more money out of the third world than we are putting in. Therefore, the net flow of resources is negative and no amount of tsunami aid will improve that. We must get a total resource flow picture clear in our minds. With one hand we are giving aid and with the other we are collecting debt. That is a daft way of conducting policy.
People say that health and education are very importantI do not deny that as I was part of the original human development report team and I contributed to that report for 13 yearsbut what that does is improve the supply of labour; it does nothing to increase the demand for labour. To increase the demand for labour you need proper investment either in agriculture or in industry. One either needs to encourage something on the domestic front so that resource flows improve or try to encourage the flow of private capital. No one has said anything so far about the flow of private capital. Eventually, a self-sustaining economy will have to have enough profitable business either in the countryside or in the urban areas. We are not all going to live off government jobswe must have a viable economy. While problems such as malaria, HIV/AIDS, children's education and malnutrition are important, they are just one side of the equation and not the full answer.
In a previous debate, I said that I would like to do a mental experiment of saying, "If we have 50 billion dollars in aid, given that there are a billion poor, can we find any way of giving 50 dollars directly to each poor person?". The Minister was surprised that I had said that, and she did not know what to say. I assure my noble friend that I expect no answer from him to anything that I say at any time. I was surprised to find that there is a small body of literature about this proposal. It has been pointed out by Professor Hanlon of the Open University
26 Jan 2005 : Column 1305
that they tried this experiment in Mozambiquethey tried to give money directly to poor people by a cheque that they could then take to the post office and cash. It proved that the poor know well how to use the money that they are given; they do not misuse the money. Giving 1 dollar per week to a poor person is at least a 15 per cent increase in their income, if not more, which is a substantial increase. However, we have not actually found any way of doing it. When we give money, the proportion that reaches the poor is perhaps 10 or 15 per cent of the dollar that we give. We must find less bureaucratic ways of giving money that are more direct and effective, so that the money actually reaches the poor and not the people who are writing poverty strategiesthey are friends of mine and they do not deserve any money.
Lord Griffiths of Burry Port: My Lords, I add my tribute to the noble Baroness, Lady Whitaker, for instigating this debate. We started late because there was a Statement about combating terrorism, in the course of which it was mentioned that the prime duty of a Home Secretary or of any government is the security of the democracy and the state in which we live. That gives me a cue to begin any contribution that I can make to this debate. Some of the most fragile countries, and countries on the point of collapse, have such an absence of security that all talk of poverty alleviation is nonsense. The provision of security is of such a primordial nature that it is almost redundant and recondite for us to talk about grand strategies for alleviating poverty.
I hope that I will not bore your Lordships by returning again and again in debates in this House to my own obsessions. I have in mind particularly a country a mere 90 minutes' flying time to the south of the landmass of the United States of America. I am conscious that I make my contribution to this debate less than a week after the inauguration of the President of the United States, in which the words "freedom" and "democracy" were widely blazoned abroad. I am talking about Haiti, where an absence of anything approaching what might meet any of the millennial development goals has been catalogued over the years. It is the poorest country in the western hemisphere. It could do with a dose of goats as much as anything else; I suspect that it would take anything.
To indicate how when things are bad they get even worse, just last year there was a flash flood in September that brought deaths within a small concentration of land at the base of the Artibonite in the city of Gona-ves that was pretty near tsunami levels; 3,000 within a tiny concentration of land. That had been preceded in May by another similar accident in which a further 3,000 were killed in Haiti. That occurred in a year when political turmoil on an unprecedented scaleeven for that poor, beleaguered countryhad seen the ousting of the last fig leaf of constitutional government, only to be replaced by government by renegades and convicted criminals and with a political vacuum such as I have not known in the whole history of Haiti, about which I have written extensively.
26 Jan 2005 : Column 1306
This tiny country has its own word to say about freedom; it was the first black republic in the world, and these were the first slaves to overthrow their colonial masters, yet there is this dreadful situation. This week I received a detailed study of a recent visit to Haiti that was undertaken by a group from the Center for the Study of Human Rights in the University of Miami. It is almost mind-boggling, and the photographs simply ought not to be seen without a doctor's paper. They are of youngsters in the street shot one at a time by the security police simply for having sympathies with the ousted president. Each one of them was shot in the back of the head, the fifth to such an extent that his head was blown off by some large-calibre weapon, I know not what.
In the Government newspaper Le Nouvelliste, there is a feature called the "Baghdad Column", which talks about the latest kidnappings and beheadings. This is happening in a country where the United States, Canada and France have taken direct responsibility for this time of transition since the ousting of the constitutional government. The United Nations has a force of 9,000 there, but it seems that they are not using their special peace-making mandate to separate warring factions, but rather occupying a peace-keeping role instead, thus just adding to the suffering.
I know that better things can happen to alleviate poverty in Haiti, because to a large extent I have done them. I agree with the previous speaker, that if a dollar can go to a person much improvement can take place. I have planted trees and seen that they grow, organised co-operatives and seen that they work, organised literacy campaigns and established primary health care systems and founded and overseen schools; I therefore know that the energies that have never been tapped are the energies of the peasant people of Haiti. From that, we can draw conclusions that might be helpful in other places. It is possible that in the poorest countries, even those on the verge of collapse, better things might be done. All the grand strategies that have been alluded to in this debate must at the end of the day be measured by outcomes; the betterment of ordinary people who are trapped by their poverty.
Baroness D'Souza: My Lords, I too wish to thank the noble Baroness, Lady Whitaker, for securing this debate. By far the greatest trigger for extreme poverty and destitution is the enforced movement of communities due to conflict, drought, government land policies, and/or multinational investments, among other factors. A community that is forced to move is by definition vulnerable, because existing networks and coping strategies, which all small-scale societies have, are grossly disrupted. For these reasons, groups rarely move voluntarily, but when they do so it is an indication of their desperation.
Endemic or chronic poverty is characterised more by a narrowing of income-earning choices and a consequent reduction in the variety of income sources. Destitution happens when there are no longer any choices to be made and the single source of income has dried up. In nearly all cases of extreme poverty and
26 Jan 2005 : Column 1307
destitution, the cause is broadly political and to do with decisions made by governments over which people have no control but which adversely affect their lives and livelihoods. The obvious answer to ending poverty is to create democracies conducive to stability, development, investment and transparency. But that is long-term work, and the poor and the destitute need assistance today.
The task is to build protection against extraneous events that precipitate poverty or destitution and/or to underpin methods of social security within communitieseven displaced communities. However, development agencies accept that it is difficult to assist the really poor. There is typically no infrastructure through which external aid can be fairly distributed. Aid can also undermine fragile local coping strategies, such as mechanisms for income transfer, as in the hiring of seasonal labour, the building of local food reserves or the maintenance of distant family networks as social security.
It is estimated that there are about 600 million children the world over who live in extreme povertythat is, about one in four. In China, the figure is 4.2 million children and, although improvements in the standard of living generally have helped to reduce chronic poverty in that country, the move from a centrally planned economy to a globalised market economy has introduced new kinds of vulnerability. For example, the public sector lost about 31 million jobs between 1995 and 2000; the introduction of health and education charges has put pressure on households; and liberalisation has resulted in huge migrationsomething like 120 million since 1990from the rural areas to the cities in search of better opportunities.
Poverty can turn to destitution very suddenly. Perhaps I may give one example. In a town in south-western China, a man's sole source of income was from collecting stray plastic bags which he then tried to sell. His wife collected discarded vegetables and cooked them into a thin soup for sale in the daily market. The family of four had travelled from the far north to try to escape relentless poverty. They had no relatives anywhere nearby, and they belonged to a downtrodden ethnic group. Then the small daughter had a serious accident in which she fell into an oil vat in the market, with subsequent terrible injuries requiring surgery if she were to grow normally. The wife became emotionally and mentally distraught, unable to look after the children or to work. I hardly need tell your Lordships that the prognosis for this family was not very good. That is a real example but one of extreme circumstances.
Amartya Sen, the economist, argues that destitution arises not so much from entitlement failures but from the causes of entitlement failures. If we are serious about alleviating poverty, we must be able, first, to monitor increasing failures in entitlement before destitution sets in.
There are macro and micro ways of reducing poverty. Today, I am concerned with developing more efficient methods of identifying vulnerability at the community and even household levels and the introduction of
26 Jan 2005 : Column 1308
capacity-building schemes, even among the destitute. There is a great deal of research in this area of development, but I think that one issue that still needs attention is how best to bring together the resources of democracy and development programmes for synergistic effect. Both democracy and development initiatives are multimillion dollar businesses, yet we also know that small-scale, local schemes from the bottom up really do make a difference, as has been said several times in this debate.
Women have been empowered in communities all over the world. We also know from research that, once they have been empowered and protected from the daily threat of destitution, their earned resources will go into education and health schemes. Educating girls results in further development of the communityperhaps one of the only constant factors throughout the world. It has been said but it is perhaps worth saying it many times more: if you want development, educate girls.
Small and organised local groups that make demands of local and regional government for supplies, roads or water purification are per se political groups. Politicised groups take on local issues and begin to have a voice. These groups can be strengthened through assistance with networking, small capital inputs, such as communications, leadership training, and legal and marketing services. The starting point is modest, highly localised material assistance specific to a given group's cultural norms and the end product is nascent democracy and civil society at the grass roots level. This is a hugely inexpensive way of delivering assistance.
We need multilateral and bilateral aid to deal with trade, aid and debt. We need governments to pursue the millennium development goals with vigour. But we also need local initiatives that allow people to avoid destitution and provide choices upon which democracy can build. This is where development and human rights sometimes do, but always should, come together.
|Next Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|