Opinion: Third Voice - Asian quake is more ammunition in war on poverty

Richard Hawkes, chairman of BOND, the network of UK-based international NGOs, and director of Sense International

British NGOs have been gearing up for 2005, a year that would see the NGO world galvanised and united in the 'Make Poverty History' campaign. This campaign would place enormous pressure on governments and international decision makers to give serious attention to the causes of global poverty. The challenge would be to achieve a high profile for world issues and ensure that we work together on common goals.

The Asian earthquake has certainly ensured that the world has come together for a common goal and that international issues have the world's attention. But these tragic events make the Make Poverty History campaign even more relevant. While it is right that the world has focused on the millions of people whose lives have been ruined, it would be wrong if we allowed this to deflect attention from the harrowing situations facing millions more of the world's poor. Almost half of Africans live on less than $1 a day, thousands of children die needlessly and within five years 20 million African children will have lost both parents to HIV/Aids.

We must also remember who has been hardest hit by the Asian tragedy. They are poor people, in poor communities, more exposed to poverty and more vulnerable to the impact of disasters. Addressing the causes of poverty reduces the numbers of people in these situations and strengthens their ability to deal with future disasters.

This tragedy has also shown the amazing ability of people and organisations to come together. People in conflict for years in Indonesia and Sri Lanka have been supporting each other; aid agencies have united fundraising appeals; NGOs, governments and international government agencies have worked in partnership.

There is much to learn from this. But we have to continue to address the causes of poverty. We cannot leave poor people so vulnerable, not only to natural disasters but to the consequences of political decisions. We need trade justice, we need debt to be dropped and we need more and better aid.

In 2005 we have a tremendous opportunity to campaign for this. With the UK chairing the G8 and holding the presidency of the EU we can ensure that global issues are high on the agenda throughout the year. We can never undo the tragic events in Asia, but we can do something to make the world a better place in the future.

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