Canada's not living up to global poverty goals
The executive director of Oxfam Canada has claimed that he is "embarrassed as a Canadian" because of Canada's miserable record in delivering on a key United Nations goal for eliminating global poverty. Robert Fox told the Georgia Straight in a phone interview from Ottawa that the federal government has only allocated 0.32 percent of the country's gross national income for foreign aid. That's less than half the 0.7 target in the UN's Millennium Development Goals.
"The target of 0.7 percent was established by [former prime minister] Lester Pearson in 1969 on behalf of the world," Fox said. "We're farther from that target today than we were in 1969."
Fox will be a keynote speaker along with UBC professor Michael Byers at the third annual Make Poverty History walk in Vancouver on Saturday (October 13). It begins at 11 a.m. at Seaforth Peace Flame Park on the south end of the Burrard Street Bridge and winds up at the Vancouver Art Gallery. In his interview with the Straight, Fox noted that the Harper government recently announced a $14 billion surplus, which has been accompanied by increased military spending but no corresponding increases to address poverty in Canada or around the world.
"What the walk helps to do is remind people how important that struggle is and, number two, that change is possible but it's only going to happen if we really press," Fox said. "I sometimes say if you're not outraged, you're not paying attention. What is happening on this planet at this time is outrageous. The levels of poverty are obscene."
Only five countries–Denmark, Luxembourg, Norway, Sweden, and the Netherlands–are donating 0.7 percent of their gross national incomes to foreign aid, according to the UN's 2006 Millennium Development Goals report. According to a 2003 UN report, more than a billion people lived on less than US$1 per day, which is how the UN defines extreme poverty. The first Millennium Development Goal is to reduce by half between 1990 and 2015 the number of people in the world living on that amount.
According to UNICEF, almost 11 million children die before their fifth birthday each year. Fox said he thinks the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank bear responsibility for some of these deaths, because they've imposed a cap on public-service payrolls in some southern countries, reducing their capacity to hire more teachers and health-care workers. In this respect, he echoed comments previously made by Stephen Lewis, the UN secretary general's special envoy on HIV/AIDS in Africa.
Fox said that as a result of privatization initiatives promoted by international financial institutions, the poor don't have access to proper sanitation and clean drinking water in southern countries because they can't afford the user fees. "We desperately need that basic investment in basic public services," Fox said. "And it makes no sense at all, in fact it is criminal, to limit the capacity of governments in the south to create more teaching jobs and to create more health-worker jobs."
He noted that Canada is a member of the IMF and the World Bank and can have a voice in the governance of these institutions. "There is no question that lives would be saved if more of our aid budget were going into basic health care and basic education and ensuring people had more access to clean water," Fox said.