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CURRENT ISSUE:  November 6, 2006VOL. 44, NO. 19Oakland, CA

U.S. Catholics asked to mobilize against global poverty

SAN FRANCISCO (CNS) -- In a world where half of the population is poor and more than 1 billion people endure a poverty so harsh that their very survival is at risk daily, the notion of eliminating extreme poverty from the world in this lifetime may seem utopian.

But Columbia University professor Jeffrey D. Sachs, author of “The End of Poverty,” said with only a little more help from the United States and other developed nations, the lives of the world’s poorest people could be dramatically improved.

America and other nations simply need to live up to the development assistance promises they made six years ago, he said in a keynote speech Oct. 27 at the “Point 7 Now” national conference on global poverty. The event was held Oct. 27-28 at St. Mary’s Cathedral in San Francisco.

The “Point 7 Now” conference title refers to goals adopted by the nations of the world in September 2000 at the U.N. Millennium Summit, aimed at reducing extreme poverty and improving the lives of those living in the world’s poorest countries by the year 2015.

Governments of most developed countries agreed to increase their aid to the poorest countries -- pledging the equivalent of seven-tenths of 1 percent of their gross domestic product each year for development assistance.

As part of the U.N. Millennium Declaration, the nations of the world specifically pledged to achieve several goals: eradicating extreme poverty and hunger; achieving universal access to primary education; promoting gender equality and empowering women; reducing child mortality; improving maternal health; combating HIV/AIDS; and ensuring environmental sustainability.

While a half-dozen countries have reached the “Point 7” goal of increased aid, the United States remains near the bottom of the list when aid from developed countries is measured as a percentage of GDP. This performance spurred the subtitle of the “Point 7 Now” conference: “Keeping America’s Promise to Make Poverty History.”

Participants listen, via teleconference, to Jeffrey Sachs (right), professor of health policy and management at Columbia University, and Father J. Bryan Hehir, president of Catholic Charities of Boston.

Greg Tarczynski photo

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The San Francisco conference was aimed at building awareness and support for the U.N. Millennium Development Goals and the Catholic Campaign Against Global Poverty.

The campaign is an effort led by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and Catholic Relief Services, the bishops’ overseas relief and development agency, to encourage citizens to advocate for policies that increase development aid, offer debt relief to poor countries and ensure that trade agreements benefit more than the wealthy.

Nearly 1,000 people registered for the two-day conference, which drew church leaders, economists and international development experts from around the world, as well as activists, leaders from academia, business and labor, lay leaders and diocesan officials from across the country.

“We have a responsibility to address the moral scandal of global poverty. We come together to raise awareness, mobilize resources and reflect on how putting faith into action can build a more just world, “said Archbishop George H. Niederauer of San Francisco.
The archdiocese co-sponsored the conference with the USCCB and a handful of other Catholic institutions.

Opening the conference, speakers from India, Kenya and Brazil provided insights into the poverty situation in Asia, Africa and South America -- the parts of the world where the vast majority of the world’s poorest peoples live.

Speaking to the conference via live video, Sachs said developed countries’ commitment to the Millennium Development Goals was not a matter of the rich giving to the poor, “but a relationship of one human being to another in solidarity.”

What may surprise many, Sachs said, is that eliminating extreme poverty does not require the world to be turned upside down, nor does it require a revolution, he added.

“What we are talking about is less than one percent of our income, 70 cents out of each $100 in GDP,” he said. The poor of the world, he said, need a little practical help.

To those who might argue that the poor nations ought to help themselves, Sachs said, “No one ever got out of extreme poverty by themselves, without some help.”

He stressed the themes of practicality, accountability and responsibility.

As one example, he said research had identified an estimated 300 million people who could be protected from malaria by providing them bed mats that cost $5 each.

“So (for) $1.5 billion -- or about one day of Pentagon spending -- we could provide malarial protection for all of Africa,” he said.

“How can we not make this choice?” asked Sachs, who is also director of the U.N. Millennium Project and an adviser to U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan.

He said such enlightened approaches to alleviating the suffering of global poverty “is the only route to justice and the only route to peace.”

Another featured speaker at the conference was Cardinal Renato Martino, president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace.
He noted the rich heritage of Catholic social teaching regarding the poor and said an essential basis for sustained development must be the recognition of human dignity.

Such recognition “leads to human rights, which lead to justice and peace,” Cardinal Martino said.

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