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From newsdesk@igc.apc.org Fri Jun 9 15:55:09 2000
Date: Thu, 8 Jun 2000 23:03:14 -0500 (CDT)
From: IGC News Desk <newsdesk@igc.apc.org>
Subject: DEVELOPMENT: The Link Between Global Poverty And Democracy
Article: 97903
To: undisclosed-recipients:;
X-UIDL: cb48e03374b17e512f8460af91d0d9dd

The Link Between Global Poverty And Democracy

By Lewis Machipisa, IPS, 7 June 2000

STOCKHOLM, June 7 (IPS)—Global poverty is on the increase.

This is despite the fact that there are now more democratically elected governments in the world, more dollars being pumped into development projects and more commitments being made by world leaders to reduce global poverty.

Politicians, academics and policy makers alike are puzzled.

The question of whether there is a link between poverty and democracy will dominate the agenda of a two-day meeting on 'Democracy and Poverty' which commences in Stockholm on Thursday.

Some 1.5 billion people now live on less than one US dollar per day while nearly a billion people are illiterate and almost a third of the population in the developing world, where most of the poverty alleviation projects are sponsored, is not expected to survive to the age of 40.

While there has been so much hype that democracy could end hunger in undemocratic countries, democracy as a poverty alleviation method has a poor performance record in the provision of rights and resources to the majority of people living in developing countries.

Across all regions, elections have not fulfilled the expectations placed upon them for accountable governance. At the same time donors have displayed a tendency to develop field programmes that are not always in harmony with country-specific conditions and needs.

Some countries have seen the number of the poor double after independence and a flow of donors to help in alleviating poverty.

These shortcomings will be up for discussion when some 100 politicians, policy-makers, donors, academics, Non Governmental Organisation representatives and United Nations officials around the world attend the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA) fifth Democracy Forum.

Titled 'Democracy and Poverty: A Missing Link? the Forum is organised in collaboration with the World Bank and UNDP.

According to the organisers although almost all governments and international organisations increasingly see democracy support and poverty reduction as two key development priorities of the 21st century, very little is done to link the two issues on the ground.

This weeks' Democracy Forum aims to identify ways in which democracy assistance and poverty alleviation projects can be better linked in order to promote democracy and human development.

To address the links between the two key developments, the Forum will focus on three themes: accountable governance, participation and citizenship rights.

Promoting democracy is a strategy for poverty alleviation because it enhances the rights and participation of all citizens, says Patrick Molutsi, senior executive with IDEA.

We are not saying that democracy is a panacea for all ills of poverty, adds Bengt Save-Soderbergh, International IDEA's secretary-general.

But democratic values and institutions help draw public attention to pressing needs of the poor. This involves going beyond building and reforming democratic institutions.

International IDEA's objective is to promote and advance sustainable democracy worldwide and to improve and consolidate electoral processes.

The Forum will bring together different regional approaches with a view to investigating common issues and formulating concrete ways in which democracy assistance and poverty alleviation projects could work in tandem.

So far, it appears that democracy and poverty alleviation programmes have failed to offer security and food to citizens.

According to International IDEA, with the end of the Cold War, there was a surge of optimism that the world could use its enormous resources for development.

In the 1990s, world conferences and summit meetings emphasised the urgency of eradicating poverty, enhancing women's participation and promoting democracy.

World leaders committed themselves to these goals and international agencies and development banks invested billions of dollars in development projects, says International IDEA.

But 'despite the financial and moral commitment, why has there been limited progress in making a real dent in worldwide poverty?'

International IDEA believes that the answer may lie, in part, in linking poverty eradication with democracy promotion.

Governments are more likely to adopt policies that improve the welfare of all when citizens participate in decision making at all levels of society, says IDEA.

The poor, traditionally excluded from political participation, must have a voice in issues that affect their lives to ensure that their needs are addressed.

Therefore an important step in eliminating poverty is empowering the poor and increasing their influence on decision making.

Though poverty also exists in developed democratic countries, Save-Soderbergh says ahead of the conference, 'democratic values and institutions such as civil liberties and press freedom increase accountability and reduce corruption, and help draw public attention to pressing needs thus increasing the potential for meeting the needs of the poor'.

Keynote speakers for the conference include, professor Mahammad Yunus, managing director of the Grameen Bank in Bangladesh, a micro credit scheme which has helped the poorest of the poor, especially women, escape from poverty through the provision of small loans without collaterals.

Others are Charles Basset, former president of Ecuador, Osvaldo Hurtado, senior vice-president of the Canadian International Development Agency and Swedish state secretary for International Development Cooperation, Gun-Britt Andersson.

Our sincere belief is that the excess of one billion poor individuals who are living in conditions of extreme material deprivation, insecurity and emotional frustration, appreciate every effort to change the world in a direction that makes it more caring, secure and equitable, says Molutsi

He dismissed sceptics who say that there are now too many conferences and workshops that in no way better the conditions of the poor.

There may be some validity to this argument, however, many who spend a lot of time struggling for survival, know that the struggle is best fought on a multitude of fronts. Developing and strengthening ideas and advocacy is an important aspect of the battle against poverty, says Molutsi.

IDEA's 2000 Democracy Forum is just on them.