Tears, no funds, for the poor

WHILE NGOs and journalists were taking tours to see what poverty looks like in favelas (Brazilian slums), world leaders were negotiating the chapter on "combating poverty" only a few kilometres away, in Riocentro. They, of course, could not see much poverty on "the road to Rio" as the Brazilian government had taken the precaution of removing the shelterless and the hungry from Rio. But a clean conscience failed to produce a consensus as the US delegates found it politically necessary to reserve its position on the poverty of "people under occupation".

There was also a deadlock on the issue of finance. All the three paragraphs on financing global action programmes to combat poverty were bracketed as some of the donor countries had problems in accepting the cost of implementing them, estimated at US $30 billion of which about a half was to be provided through external assistance. In the final text, the estimate was lowered to US $20 billion.

Agenda 21 recognises that poverty is a complex multi-dimensional problem with roots in both national and international domains. Since the problem is of a diverse nature, it is not possible to have a uniform solution, and therefore it is important to have "country specific programmes" supported by conducive international environment.

The agenda seeks to achieve sustainable livelihood for all by integrating development with sustainable resource management and poverty eradication. The agenda seeks to empower grassroot communities so that they can participate effectively in "the sustainable management and protection of the local natural resources".

Southern NGOs, however, were not happy with poverty being dismissed as a mere chapter of Agenda 21. A large number of NGOs from the South and their supporters from the North formed the Global Forum on Environment and Poverty (GEEP), and adopted a declaration on poverty and environment. They demanded that the rich should pay the full ecological costs of their consumption and that the peace dividend in a post-Cold War era must be assessed and redirected towards global poverty eradication. They also demanded a global convention on poverty.

Money for an anti-poverty programme, if it comes at all, will emerge from IDA -- the soft loan window of the World Bank. But since there are doubts that the IDA will get replenished even in real terms, it is quite likely that what the poor got in Rio were just crocodile tears.