Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Amid the turmoil, do not forget the poor

By Kofi Annan, Michel Camdessus and Robert Rubin - Thursday Oct 30 2008

There are two lessons that history and our personal experience teach us. One is that when crises occur, the least responsible are usually the worst affected and the least able to cope. The second is that crises can provide the momentum for reform and radical change. These moments are fleeting and need to be grasped to put arrangements in place that will prevent their recurrence. In today's globalised world, that means new arrangements that are more effective, efficient and equitable.

So it is with the current financial meltdown. Its full impact has yet to be fathomed, but will include global economic slowdown, reduced trade, more competition for credit and a flight to safety among investors. Pressure will increase on public expenditure and aid levels, which may decrease. Right now, the political focus is on protecting consumers and taxpayers in industrialised countries. But poor people and poor countries could soon end up paying the heaviest price for a mess they have had no hand in creating.

A response to the crisis that does not take into account the needs of the world's poor - or, worse, that results in reduced levels of engagement - would be grossly unfair. We all share responsibility for the persistence of poverty, hunger, disease and illiteracy on a vast scale. The sense of injustice they engender is a threat to economic and political security. The sense of responsibility that has galvanised western politicians into action to restore confidence in the financial system should, in a globalised world, also result in actions to accelerate achievement of the millennium development goals.