Wednesday, December 30, 2009

A Happy New Year ?

Adapted from here
As 2010 approaches we remember how the decade started with the Millennium Declaration by the UN that set many spectacular targets for world progress. The boldest one being to cut extreme poverty in half by 2015. That meant finding a better life for at least half the estimated 1.4 billion humans who live in poverty so severe — living on no more than $1.25 a day. But with only six years to go those in extreme poverty have soared back above 1.1 billion.
"more than one quarter of children in developing regions are underweight for their age, stunting their prospects for survival, growth and longer term development," says the UN.

By early 2008, government intelligence agencies were warning that in a at least 27 nations across Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean food riots and the panic-hoarding of grains or rice could lead to social chaos and the rise of violent new movements.As it turned out, 61 countries experienced serious food riots. As the decade ends, many aid agencies are now warning that we're on the verge of an even greater, global frenzy over food.For many governments, what was even more worrisome was that the situation also meant serious hardship for the more politically potent urban "middle" classes.Civil unrest struck not only the world's poorest nations, such as Ethiopia, Mozambique, Haiti, Bangladesh and Yemen, but also those classified as middle income, including Mexico, Egypt, Morocco, Thailand and the Philippines.The ensuing social unrest increased the strain on the whole international trading system to the point that it appeared on the verge of a classic "each against all" meltdown.Faced with the need to calm frantic populations, 31 food exporting nations, including key rice producers such as Vietnam, India and Thailand, imposed export restrictions, which led to shortages elsewhere.At the same time, an even larger group of countries, fearing future price rises, leapt into the turbulent commodity markets to try and shore up dwindling stocks while they still could afford to.Panic buying, which became all the more intense because of the lack of transparency over the true state of food stockpiles, bred natural distrust across the globe.

In recent years, extreme poverty has been seen increasingly as an African problem.In fact most of the world's poor are not in Africa, but in Asia and the Pacific region.There are almost three times as many poor — 642 million — in countries such as China, India, Pakistan and the Philippines than in sub-Saharan Africa with its 265 million.The number of people in serious poverty in Latin America and the Caribbean hit 71 million in 2009, according to the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization, a rise of three million in just one year.

The world is not producing enough food with capitalist methods .In fact, global production per capita is falling, not rising. And, as it falls, poverty rises; so does social unrest and trade wars.

A "Happy New Year" ? If you are one of the unfortunate billions living in much of Asia or Africa then the obvious answer is very likely to be no! History shows that capitalism won't go away if we shut our eyes to it, it will merely attack us all the more mercilessly. The market system is nothing if it is not relentless. Because of the problems and suffering it causes, we have to put capitalism out of its misery, and in so doing, we will help lift ourselves out of our own. Nobody else is going to do it for us, that's for sure. Without this, "Happy New Year" will be the empty platitude it usually becomes every year. If we democratically organise for change, so that we can build a society based on co-operation, respect and peacefulness, then next time we utter that phrase it may, for once, carry some real meaning.

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