General Secretary of Caritas Internationalis addresses National Press Club
The $9 billion dollars that Australians spend on beer every year, or the annual worldwide amount spent on perfume would make a big difference if it was directed towards the fight against global poverty, the Secretary General of Caritas Internationalis, Lesley Anne Knight, said today.
The Zimbabwe-born Ms Knight told the National Press Club that the war on poverty was winnable if governments had the will to commit resources to it, but she feared that first-world governments had used the global financial crisis as an excuse to cut aid spending.
Ms Knight heads up a coalition of over 162 member organisations, including Caritas Australia, which is committed to the fight against global poverty. Caritas Internationalis is the Official Aid and Development Agency of the Catholic Church.
“Each year, there are 18 million deaths as a result of poverty, which is equivalent to 85 per cent of Australia’s population, and half of the population of sub-Saharan Africa live in extreme poverty,” Ms Knight said.
She said more people die every five days as a result of poverty related factors (lack of food, healthcare and housing) than died in the Boxing Day Tsunami in 2005. The Asia Pacific region is home to approximately half of the world’s poorest people, and Australia’s closest neighbours PNG and Timor Leste are ranked at 149 and 158 respectively in terms of Human Development in an index of 179 countries.
Ms Knight also focused on individual spending habits, saying that Australians spend $9 billion dollars each year on beer alone; and that the amount spent on perfume in the world each year could end poverty.
For organisations such as Caritas Internationalis and its partners, the 0.7 percent of aid dollars asked of OECD governments going toward development organisations would be sufficient to address all of the Millenium Development Goals.
However, she said, most governments believe that there are higher priorities.
Currently, Australia is ranked in the bottom third of OECD countries in terms of their aid spending. While the Rudd government has increased aid spending by 4 billion dollars, this still only amounts to 0.32 percent of GNI, when what is needed is another 0.38 percent.
Ms Knight cited a ‘bottleneck to compassion’ as the reason why aid dollars are not being spent by governments. She said that political will, prioritisation of financial resources and the implementation of right policy are ways in which the fight against poverty can be won.
Ms Knight said she believed it was the will of the people to end poverty, but the reality was that governments were not always willing to get behind this. She also said many people believe their governments contributed much more to poverty alleviation programs than was actually the case.
‘When interviewed, US citizens believed, in the majority, that their government gives 20 times more aid to impoverished nations than it does in reality,’ she said.
Ms Knight paid tribute to the work of Caritas member agencies, and cited the strong impact that faith based organisations can have on peace-building and interfaith dialogue – mentioning in particular the work that Caritas’ agencies have done in places such as Afghanistan and Sudan.
She maintained that the Caritas Network, unlike many other agencies was committed to not only emergency relief and charitable works – but to ongoing, sustainable development.
‘Caritas is committed to being there before, during and after’, she said.