Can you die of poverty

How do we effectively and globally reduce poverty?

How can it be that hundreds of millions of people are still starving on our planet, which has enough food for everyone? How can it be that in a world whose prosperity is growing year after year, so many people lack the bare essentials for life? The persistence of hunger and poverty is a scandal. It was this outrage that challenged Christians to act as early as the 1950s, in the decade of the German economic miracle. Exactly 60 years ago, in 1957, the “Action Community for the Hungry” was founded, with which the churches' development commitment began. Misereor and Bread for the World were founded, and a few years later state development policy began its work.

Noble goal: no more poverty by 2030

For six decades, development cooperation between the state and the churches has been committed to overcoming poverty and hunger. When we see the pictures of the famine in the Horn of Africa today, or read of the poverty protests in Egypt or Greece, we must recognize that this mission has not yet been fulfilled. Some claim that all help is in vain anyway and that the state of the world has continued to deteriorate. But that is a mistake: The number of the extremely poor has fallen significantly in the last quarter of a century, from 1.8 billion to 770 million today. Over a billion people have escaped poverty since 1990. This success can not only be attributed to development aid, but it also has its part in it. So there is hope that the goal that the international community has set itself can actually be achieved: poverty and hunger are to be completely overcome by 2030.

However, the governments have solemnly announced such an intention several times. At the first World Food Summit in Rome in 1974, for example, it was said that by the end of the decade no child would have to go to bed hungry and no family should worry about the next day's bread. It turned out quite differently, in the same decade the number of starving people continued to rise despite the Green Revolution. There has been no shortage of good intentions in the history of development policy. But the political will to make it a reality is apparently lacking - or the strategies were wrong. Politicians will not have to be measured by their Sunday speeches, but by what has actually been implemented.

Poverty has become more complex

What is the global poverty situation today? Around a third of deaths worldwide are still due to poverty-related causes. They would be comparatively easy to avoid through better access to drinking water, food, doctors, and less air pollution. Almost 50,000 people die prematurely every day because their living conditions are inadequate.

The landscape of global poverty has become more complex. The majority of the poor no longer live in the poorest countries, but in the middle-income countries, in India, China and Indonesia. Many remain poor even though their states become wealthier. Because the increase in prosperity is concentrated in the hands of a few rich.

Poverty today is much more than income poverty. People experience poverty as discrimination, as an exclusion from participation in society. They have no access to health services or education, to land or water. They are unable to enforce their rights. If you take these poverty factors into account, around 2 billion people worldwide are considered poor. Asserting the rights of these disadvantaged people is the focus of church development work. “Justice for the poor” is therefore at the forefront of five core ideas with which I want to characterize our approach to dealing with poverty:

It's not about giving alms to the poor, it's about justice

Church development work stands on the side of the disadvantaged. The Protestant development memorandum wrote this down for us back in 1973: “A basic decision has been made for the Church Development Service: It has to take care of people who are pushed to the margins of their society. For their sake he works on changing social conditions. "

Taking sides for the poor is anchored in the Bible, in God's option for the poor: "Create justice for the poor and the orphans and help the poor and needy to justice," says Psalm 82. In this sense, fighting poverty is a misleading word. What we need is an empowerment program. Our work is guided by the realization that people cannot be developed, only develop themselves. All people should have the opportunity to realize their rights.

Development is neither desirable nor possible without the participation of the poor. But that also means: it is not we as donors in Germany who decide what to do, but rather the partners in the south who define their own goals and implement their programs. They know the concerns of the disadvantaged on site and listen to them first before tackling solutions.

When we talk about poverty, we must not be silent about wealth

In a limited world, poverty reduction cannot be achieved without limiting wealth. In a world that operates on the verge of ecological limits, the promise that further growth will one day also take the poor left behind with it can no longer be kept. Poverty must be overcome not through more growth, but through more distributive justice. However, we are still a long way from the goal formulated in the SDGs that the incomes of the 40 percent poorest in each country should grow more than the average income: in more than a third of the countries, the gap between the bottom 40 has widened Percent and the top 60 percent of the income pyramid.

What do we know about the most effective steps towards poverty-reducing redistribution? The latest studies, including those by the World Bank, include: social policy measures, strengthening social security, a free health system that is accessible to all, investments in education and the expansion of public infrastructure. And social justice is also a question of justice between the sexes, as women and girls are particularly affected by poverty and disadvantage.

Bread for the World supports partner organizations in enforcing tax-financed instruments for social security against their governments. Above all, coverage in the event of illness is important, as illness is one of the most dangerous poverty traps. The Old Testament already knew poor-oriented social legislation that rests on the principle of distributive justice. With the release year, a debt relief was decreed so that no one would be overwhelmed by the burden of debt. How does it say about this in the fifth book of Moses? "There shouldn't be a poor man among you at all."

Good life is good life for everyone, worldwide!

At a time when many insist that we must defend our prosperity, against the claims of those in need or against refugees, it is more necessary than ever to remember this principle of justice. At the core of a Christian understanding is that we can only speak of a good life if it is shared with everyone. That means if our near and distant neighbors can lead a good life.

Those who are doing well would be better off if those who are doing better were doing less well.

We can't have a good life just for ourselves. We have to ask the test question to what extent the lifestyle that we cultivate can be made universal, to what extent it is globally compatible. Most Germans live beyond the conditions of our earth, which means that we consume more resources than we would be entitled to with worldwide equal distribution: we emit far more greenhouse gases than we should, we use gigantic land areas in other countries for the cultivation of animal feed Claim to enable our high meat consumption. There is no way around drastically reducing the ecological footprint of our way of life and economy, as long as the effects of our increased consumption curtail the life chances of others. Above all, an energy turnaround, a food turnaround and a mobility turnaround are urgent in this country in order to make our society internationally compatible and suitable for grandchildren.

Priority for integral approaches instead of isolated solutions

The SDGs make it clear that the global challenges are intertwined: ecological and economic problems, social and development policy, cultural and human rights issues, they must therefore also be tackled in a networked manner. This is an important step forward compared to the silo thinking of earlier years. In the first decades of development policy there were peculiar recipes that were one-sidedly fixated on economic growth, based on the motto “growth now - democratization later”, “growth now - environmental protection later”. These recipes have failed miserably. It is important to strengthen integrated approaches and not be blinded by the apparent efficiency of technical solutions, be it new drugs, high-performance seeds or harvesting machines.

Just one example: The ominous mixture of state fragility, poverty, the lack of health care and the consequences of the war were the causes that made the Ebola catastrophe in West Africa possible in the first place. Fighting the virus alone cannot prevent the next crisis. It is therefore important to expand basic health systems across the board and to dovetail them with rural development, the advancement of women and peacekeeping.

"Taking less is happier than giving more"

Public development efforts worldwide last amounted to 142 billion US dollars, which is an all-time high. At first glance, the sum seems enormous. Given the size of the task, however, it is more than modest. The damage caused by natural disasters alone is significantly greater than the amount of global development aid. And it is shocking what priorities states set in their national budgets: Governments spend only a fraction of the amount on development that they provide for war equipment.

If the SDGs are to be achieved, the priorities must be realigned. It is even more urgent to ensure that the poor countries do not bleed any further. Much more money flows out of developing countries than they receive through investments, remittances from migrant workers or development aid. They lose hundreds of billions every year in illegal financial transfers alone and through the tax avoidance of many corporations. If you add legal outflows such as debt payments or profit transfers, the developing countries lose two dollars for every dollar that arrives at them.

Therefore tax avoidance has to be combated, tax havens dried up and the negative effects of our trade and economic policy put to a halt. Shaping global economic relations fairly and an internationally compatible trade, foreign, economic and security policy should make the main contribution to the global fight against poverty.

The economy must also be held accountable. In contrast to the Federal Government, we consider it urgently necessary to regulate the human rights due diligence of companies by law. Because respect for human rights and ecological standards cannot be left to the discretion of voluntary self-commitments. It is also necessary that the individual political departments act more coherently in the interests of sustainable development. Especially here at the seat of the federal government, one always gets the impression that one hand doesn't know what the other is doing. How does it work together that one ministry wants to strengthen the incomes of smallholder producers by integrating them into regional value chains, while another supports the export offensive of the German food industry and thus displaces smallholders from their regional markets in Africa?

And how does it work together that, on the one hand, in the interests of managing migration, there is cooperation with dictatorial regimes whose human rights violations will sooner or later increase the number of displaced persons? More coherence in the sense of a poverty-oriented and sustainable overall policy of the Federal Government would be the most important contribution that it can make on the way to a world without hunger and poverty.

A socio-ecological transformation of the economy and society is necessary. Tasks for all countries emerge from the 2030 Agenda. The development commitment of the state and the churches is also in a state of upheaval. Cooperation between North and South, East and West to jointly solve cross-border problems is becoming more and more important. We cannot operate in Help mode primarily, we have to go to the roots of the evil.

In this sense, Bertolt Brecht aptly expressed the limits of goodness 80 years ago: "Instead of just being kind, you try to create a condition that makes goodness possible - or better, makes it superfluous."