Pushing Back the Frontiers of Poverty
Speech on the occasion of the General Debate of the Inter-Parliamentary Union
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Ladies and Gentlemen,
The Russian writer Fyodor Dostoyevsky once said that alms corrupt the soul of the giver and of the receiver and, moreover, defeat their purpose because they make poverty worse.
I can only agree with this - after all, fighting worldwide poverty is a task which affects all areas of life and which requires givers and receivers to work together on equal terms. Fighting poverty, therefore, is not about giving alms. Modern development policy does much more than that. Its purpose is to help people to develop productive, creative skills and to take responsibility. It seeks to create fair foundations for all and change the world on a lasting basis for the better.
The German Federal Government has committed itself to precisely these goals. For us, development policy is a key element of international peace policy. It is about giving people the chance of a secure existence free from hunger and material need. It is about giving them the chance to get access to education and training and to find work. And it is also about making it possible for people to live in a healthy environment and in peace with their neighbours.
Much has been achieved in German development cooperation in recent years. Under our Minister for Economic Cooperation and Development, Heidemarie Wieczoreck-Zeul, the German development budget has risen year on year since 1998. In this financial year we are investing more than five billion euros in development cooperation, roughly 670 million euros more than in the previous year. This is the largest increase in funds in the Ministry's existence. Yet we all know that this sum is far below our target.
Development policy is more important than it has ever been! I believe that we in Germany and in other industrialised countries have a particular duty to take a critical look and ask ourselves: what can we do better in order to meet the Millennium Development Goals? How can we fight poverty more effectively than we have done so far?
I think it is a scandal that today there are still more than a billion people who have no access to clean drinking water. Almost half the world's population lives without proper sanitation. This has consequences not only for public health but also for economies, since developing countries lose more than 1.2 billion working days solely as a result of a lack of proper water supply and sanitation. Investment in better basic sanitation pays dividends for national economies - every euro spent brings nine euros in return.
Water is the future. And we want to support this future in and with other countries which are increasingly affected by water scarcity. In Burkina Faso, for example, we have funded 1000 wells which are operated and maintained by the local village communities. The maintenance and repair work is carried out by locally trained technicians. In this way, we are not only helping to provide a healthy water supply, we are also giving people long-term job prospects.
I am sure you will agree with me that energy and climate protection are among the most important challenges facing us in the 21st century. Climate protection and development policy are inextricably linked. We know that up to now developing countries have contributed almost nothing to climate change but already suffer from its dramatic consequences.
What we want for ourselves, we also want for others: clean and secure energy and independence from fossil fuels. The German Federal Government feels a duty to set a good example. In 2007, more than seven per cent of primary energy was generated in Germany from renewable energy sources. And the percentage is increasing. I particularly welcome the fact that renewable energies have become a real driver for employment in Germany and have already created 236,000 new jobs. And these are occupations which will become even more important in the future. By 2020 it is forecast that there will be yet another 100,000 new jobs. Why should this not also be possible in developing countries and emerging economies?
We want very much to point people in developing and newly industrialising countries to alternatives and to promote sustainable energy sources in the developing and industrialised world. We have therefore made climate protection and the promotion of renewable energies a priority area of German development cooperation. This year we are investing around 900 million euro in climate protection projects in developing countries. In addition, we have created a programme called „Sustainable Energy for Development“ with which we hope not only to strengthen cooperation with the governments of our partner countries in the energy sector but to identify new ways of working with private industry.
In the fight against poverty renewable energies are particularly important in rural areas. People can use the sun, water and geothermal heat to operate local small-scale power stations. In this way they can generate enough energy for their needs and promote local industry while at the same time protecting the environment and climate. I find that a really exciting prospect!
We are already supporting a number of private and non-governmental projects in the area of environmentally-friendy energy use. One example is Grameen Shakti, a company in Bangladesh which we are supporting in conjunction with the German Kreditanstalt für Wiederaufbau (Reconstruction Loan Coropration). One of the aims of this non-profit company is to promote alternative energies in the form of solar home systems in rural regions of Bangladesh to ensure that even in remote parts of the country people have access to clean energy. One particularly positive element of the project, I believe, is that Grameen Shakti is training women as solar energy technicians, hence providing them with job opportunities. Projects such as this are groundbreaking, and we believe that anyone who manages to supply people who are fighting poverty with clean energy and at the same time give them new job opportunities deserves our full support!
Recently we discussed in the German Bundestag how we could assist developing and newly industrialised countries to establish social security systems. Although the number of people living in absolute poverty has fallen sharply, today 80 per cent of people still live with no protection against illness, unemployment and poverty in their old age. Take China and India, for example. Despite booming economies, millions of people in these countries still work as migrant workers and day labourers, living in absolute poverty without rights or protection.
I firmly believe that without sustsainable social systems, any successes in fighting poverty can only be short term. This is the reason why we are making social security a further top priority in our development cooperation. I am delighted that Zambia, for example, has for the first time included a chapter on social security in its current national development plan. For 2012, the Zambian government plans to expand social welfare benefits using social cash transfers. We want to encourage these positive approaches by supporting the establishment of social security systems.
As a politician with a particular interest in cultural affairs and education, I cannot miss this opportunity to steer your attention to these two important elements in the fight against poverty.
This year we have allocated 40 million euro to a major school initiative involving German schools abroad. The schools offer children in host countries and other culture groups the opportunity to become familiar with Germany, its culture and language. Many go on to study at German universities and retain ties with Germany through their work. This creates networks which can provide a useful building block for future foreign policy, exports and culture.
I believe cultural relations and educational policy is an important field of German development cooperation for the future. We believe in the benefits of enabling people to make direct contact with each other and seek to promote dialogue and exchange between different cultures and religions.
For us Africa is a „continent of opportunities“. In 2008 alone we are providing 20 million euros to fund cultural exchange projects and programmes on our neighbouring continent. We are aware that promoting culture and education in an effective manner will also have a positive effect on the economy. And this applies not only to the African continent but to the whole world!
Before the end of the year we are opening two new Goethe Institutes in Dar es Salaam and Luanda. We also plan liaison offices and language learning centres in Rwanda, Nigeria and Burkina Faso. Language work is for us at the heart of the Aktion Afrika programme. We are investing 300,000 euros alone in the further development of language-related projects, something which is very close to my heart!
I very much value what we have achieved so far in fighting world poverty on a sustainable basis. But it is not enough! We, the international community, must continue to work hard to fight poverty sustainably in ALL parts of the world.
I encourage the industrialised countries, too, to put their own house in order. In the „rich“ countries, the social gap is widening. I am thinking in particular of the children who are increasingly affected by poverty, exclusion and disadvantage. In the OECD countries, more than 45 million children today are growing up in families which have to make do on less than 50 per cent of average income. I think these are highly dangerous developments which we can only reverse if we tackle them together.
Poverty cannot be confined to a particular region, country or continent. We must all work together for a fairer world! We must ALL face up to our responsibilities. As the theologian and philosopher Albert Schweitzer once said: Those who have seen the poorest in the world feel themselves rich enough to help. And that should apply to ALL of us!