Joan Burton, Minister of State at Department of Foreign Affairs at Trócaire Conference Poverty Amid Plenty
Statement by Joan Burton TD, Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs
at the opening of Trócaire Conference
Poverty Amid Plenty - Development Strategies Reconsidered
Ormond Hotel, 25th February 1997
Minister of State Joan Burton TD, opening the Trócaire conference, "Poverty Amid Plenty: Development Strategies Reconsidered", said that one of the greatest challenges facing development workers and Irish Aid in particular was how to assist countries in the developing world who were recovering from war and internal strife.
The Minister said that strategies have to be put in place which made prevention of conflict a priority in development strategy and also sought to assist those countries which were recovering from war. In the case of Irish aid, two of the priority countries adopted by Ireland for support - Ethiopia and Uganda - had experienced catastrophic civil wars but were now on the path to peaceful development, and Irish aid in those countries was forging new mechanisms for helping local populations particularly with health, education, water and sanitation. In the case of Rwanda, which had received unprecedented support after the genocide in 1994 from Irish NGOs and from the Irish Government, the situation remained still dangerous and uncertain. There was evidence of a renewal of the genocidal killings which had led to the massive loss of life in 1994. Irish aid was currently sending a planning mission to Rwanda with a view to working out longer-term co-operation in the area of support for the justice system, support for the medical and health needs of the country, and particularly support for women and children, in a country where almost 70% of households were headed by women because of the genocide during 1994.
The Minister said that institutions such as the World Bank and the IMF would have to reconsider the strategies of structural adjustment which were forcing many devastatingly poor countries such as Rwanda to continue to pay large amounts for debt-servicing and interest on loans, and, at the same time, imposing such stringent financial measures in terms of budgeting that any Irish Minister for Finance, faced with the same regime in this country,
would revolt and say: "No no, no." The Minister recalled that 1997 is the 50th anniversary of
the Marshall Plan. The Marshall Plan sought to help European economies, devastated by
war, redevelop their economic and industrial capacity, and the Marshall Plan had been the instrument whereby countries laid waste, such as Austria, France and Germany, had recovered to become the industrial powers that they are today. A similar strategic vision and generosity on behalf of the industrialised world, over a period of 10-20 years, end some of the appalling deprivation from which the developing world, and Africa in particular, suffers. It is important to remember that in developing countries less than 50% of people are literate; that in a country like Rwanda approximately one quarter of all children under five die before their fifth birthday, and the typical African child under five has five severe episodes of diarrhoea per year and that a child in Africa has a 14% risk of dying from diarrhoea. These are the kind of conditions which cry out for generosity and for the creation of a world of partnership and solidarity where addressing the acute problems of Africa becomes an urgency and not something to be debated at endless international conferences. The Minister welcomed the recent moves made by the G7 group in relation to debt relief but she pointed out that Mozambique, a country devastated by war and littered by landmines, is still struggling to create a domestic budget because of the strictures imposed by the structural adjustment programme on that country. "To deflate the economy of a country already devastated by war is, I think, extremely unsound economics, said Minister Burton.
She also instanced the plight of Rwanda, where again, despite the worst genocide since Nazi Germany, the international community, through the agencies of the World Bank and the IMF was insisting on a pound of flesh in the form of substantial debt repayments. Countries like Rwanda cannot give up to one-third of their domestic budget for debt repayment. They can and they must be allowed to use whatever resources are collected in taxes for the health, education and welfare of their own people. The Minister said that development could not stand on its own - it had to be considered in the context of strategies to relieve the debt burden and strategies to improve African access to the European Union markets. Again, we have seen, disappointingly, in recent weeks further delays in the successful negotiation of a trade agreement between South Africa and the European Union. Apartheid South Africa had rightly been excluded from the European Union: now as the country recovers from an evil system and has established a functioning and working democracy and the capacity to offer leadership to the whole of Southern Africa, the European Union is quibbling over whether or not South African fruits and vegetables should have access on a favoured access to European Union markets. "Again", the Minister said, "let us recall the generosity of the Marshall Plan and let Europe act in a similar light to African countries who now desperately need Europe's partnership and support."
"For much of the past three decades, there has existed a broad international consensus on the value of Development Cooperation between the countries of the North and the South. Partly, of course, this came from the exigencies of the Cold War but it also came from a belief in the value of development aid as a way of helping developing countries take their rightful place in the world. This spirit of engagement also came, I think, from the special hopes created in the immediate post colonial era when over sixty countries joined the international community as independent Nation States, the majority of them African.
With the ending of the Cold War, confidence in the role of Development Cooperation has now clearly ebbed in many developed countries. Development aid budgets have been decisively reduced in some countries accompanied by melancholy references to intractable problems that cannot be solved by throwing money away. At the same time, political leaders in many countries have pointed to globalization as a virtually magical panacea for our times that can make both developed countries more rich and developing countries, at the least, less poor.
It is worth emphasising that globalization is not a moral force. It is a set of market forces that can, and does, widen as well as diminish divisions and that can all too often undermine and destroy. It is easy for some to say that former developing countries in, for example, South Asia have crossed the bridge from poverty to relative affluence and ask why countries of Sub-Saharan Africa and elsewhere cannot do the same. The answer to this question is complex and surely goes to the heart of our discussions in this conference today.
In Jim Larkin's time, people in Ireland were able to join together in their rightful demand for justice and an end to exclusion in society. What can people in Rwanda or Burkina Faso or Malawi do today in the face of immutable economic forces except hope that someone is listening? What can someone living alongside a dirt road in Namibia or South Africa do except hope that someone will lift a helping hand to assist them? What can someone with AIDS in Africa do except hope research in developed countries leads to a cure? Half the world lives on little more than a pound a day: what does globalization offer them each day?
Pierre Schori, the Swedish Development Minister, said recently in a speech that "the concerns of international affairs in the next century must revolve around the struggle for equality". I fully agree with this assessment. We have in the coming years to challenge a system of global apartheid that leads to a net outflow of 500 billion dollars of capital from the South to the North each year. We have to build a fair trading system that gives countries in the South a chance - and not just abstract a chance on paper - to sell their goods on international markets. We have to tackle a situation where developing countries paid debt payments to developed countries of over four hundred billion dollars between 1980 and 1990."