Weak Economy Crippling the Poor

FAITH IN ACTION By Katherine Marshall First the steep jump in food prices, then in gas prices, now a world-wide … Continued


By Katherine Marshall

First the steep jump in food prices, then in gas prices, now a world-wide credit crunch: for the world’s poor, these three shocks have dealt a crippling blow. Yet at the London meetings of the G20 last week, there was barely a nod to this harsh reality. Instead, the focus was on stimulus and bailouts, certainly not meeting the promises of the year 2000 Millennium Summit, to end hunger and halve poverty by 2015.

Two billion people are struggling with poverty, yet the subject is strangely absent from current political discourse. Financial pages and wires track stock prices second by second, but signs of worsening poverty-infant and maternal death rates, lower infant birth weights, malnutrition, crime, disease-take months to emerge. So we can, sadly, expect more evidence of the “four horsemen of the apocalypse” that protesters in London last week carried in effigy: war, climate chaos, financial crimes and homelessness.

Religious communities see the economic crisis as an issue that is tightly linked to justice and ethics, and the recent G20 discussions have prompted outraged responses from a new chorus of faith leaders. “It is difficult to understand,” said Peruvian interfaith leader Elias Szczytnicki, “how earlier, resources to fight hunger could not be found, but now far larger sums are being mobilized to save the international financial system.”

Wise and angry, shocked and forlorn, the voices from churches, mosques, and synagogues are demanding that technocrats confront the human face of the crisis. The huge income gaps in our societies signal something fundamentally amiss, they say, and demands are mounting for deep changes in the international financial system so it can provide far more generous help to poor countries.

“In the context of these massive stimulus and bailout packages,” said Rick Stearns, who heads World Vision, “the $4 billion increase that the president has requested [for foreign assistance] is the equivalent of throwing a five cent tip into the tin cup of the world’s poorest 2 billion people who are the most affected by the global economic crisis.”

Some of these voices can be impractical – I would put the calls of the World Council of Churches in that category; a declaration after the Belem World Social Forum in January had noble but improbable calls for a brand new financial system centered around the United Nations. But in general, we need to listen attentively to the voices that are coming from the networks of faith communities. They are the closest to poor communities, and their voices are the ones that the G20, the ministers descending on Washington in April, the G8 leaders meeting in July and the United Nations need to hear.

By Katherine Marshall | 
April 8, 2009; 3:56 PM ET

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  • edbyronadams

    Charity is sometimes a problem in itself as well. Discerning the line between lending a helping hand and enabling maladaptive behaviors is not that easy to perceive. It is worth noting that conditions in sub Saharan Africa have not improved much despite being the beneficiary of an enormous amount of charity over the years.Meanwhile, how will they ever develop their own textile industry, the first leg up on industrialization when the continent is clothed in castoffs from the US and Europe, given in the name of charity.

  • mmm1110

    Lip service is paid to the world’s poor. Does anyone really think that governments don’t want plenty of poor people? They are easy to exploit and use as cheap labor. Governments and businessea around the world love this resource.