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Not Just a Material World

4/24/2007 - 5:45 AM PST

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Poverty Falls, Many Problems Remain

By Father John Flynn

ROME, APRIL 24, 2007 (Zenit) - Global poverty is falling, according to data just published by the World Bank. New estimates in the World Development Indicators 2007 show that the proportion of people living on less than $1 a day fell to 18.4% in 2004, explained the World Bank in a press release dated April 15.

In concrete numbers this means there are an estimated 985 million people living in extreme poverty. While still a very large number, it is an improvement. In 1990 the number was 1.25 billion.

In spite of the progress made, poverty is still an enormous problem. If the daily rate is raised to those who are living on $2 a day or less, then there are an estimated 2.6 billion people in this situation.

Nevertheless, the World Bank reported that developing countries have averaged a solid 3.9% annual growth in gross domestic product per capita a year since 2000. Another important factor in the lower poverty numbers was China's strong economic growth.

Sub-Saharan Africa remains problematic. In 2004, there were 298 million people living in extreme poverty. This, the World Bank observed, is practically the same number as in 1999.

The World Bank also commented that growth is not always enough to reduce poverty, given that in some countries inequality has worsened, leaving the poor without benefits from economic progress.

The World Bank's own poverty programs have also been criticized. An internal report, published late last year by the organization's Independent Evaluation Group, noted that only 2 in 5 borrowing countries have recorded continuous per capita income growth during the five years ending in 2005.

According to the "Annual Review of Development Effectiveness 2006," the World Bank's assistance often contributed to improving economic growth in countries, but it was less successful in bringing about the creation of jobs. The report also commented on the problem of worsening income inequality, which can reduce the contribution of economic growth to poverty reduction.

Aid commitments not met

Meanwhile, data published earlier this month by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) reveals that richer countries are falling behind in their aid to the Third World.

The 22 member-countries of the OECD Development Assistance Committee, the world's major donors, provided $103.9 billion in aid in 2006, the organization stated in data published April 3 on aid levels. This was down by 5.1% from 2005, in constant 2005 dollars. The $103.9 billion in aid represents 0.3% of the combined gross national income of the countries involved.

The only countries to reach or exceed the U.N. target of 0.7% of gross national income were Sweden, Luxembourg, Norway, the Netherlands and Denmark. In terms of the dollar amount given, the largest donor in 2006 was the United States, followed by the United Kingdom, Japan, France and Germany.

In part, the decline was due to unusually high levels of aid in 2005, largely due to debt relief operations in Iraq and Nigeria. If debt relief is excluded, then the decline in aid in 2006 is reduced to 1.8%.

In its press release the OECD also observed that aid to sub-Saharan Africa, excluding debt relief, was static in 2006. This is despite a commitment made by the G8 countries in the July Gleneagles summit to double aid to Africa by 2010.

The OECD had previously warned of the shortfall in aid, in its Development Cooperation Report. An OECD press release issued Feb. 22 explained that if countries are to meet the commitments for 2010 made to developing nations, aid funding would have to rise sharply.

In addition to doubling aid to Africa, richer nations have also undertaken to increase aid to $130 billion by 2010.

Progress in resolving problems with international trade is also lagging. Attention was drawn to this by the Holy See's permanent observer to the United Nations in New York, Archbishop Celestino Migliore.

In a speech given before a U.N. committee last Oct. 17, he stated that no substantial progress has been made in meeting commitments given in 2001 at the 4th Ministerial Conference of the World Trade Organization.

Trade, Archbishop Migliore noted, is not simply a complement to aid and debt relief. "Trade is rather a priority for the general and sustainable growth of the economies of many developing countries," he said.

Moral responsibility

The Pope has spoken out on a number of occasions on matters related to poverty and economic development. "Once again I invite the leaders of the wealthiest nations to take the necessary steps to ensure that poor countries, which often have a wealth of natural resources, are able to benefit from the fruits of goods ...

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