United Nations, Sep 23 (IANS) Debate over rights must not impede development demanded by the hundreds of millions trapped in dire poverty who will not wait, M.J. Akbar, India’s Minister of State for External Affairs, told the UN on Thursday.
“Sometimes we get lost in debate over civil, political, economic and social rights,” he said. “Debate is important in order to find clarity, and to learn from one another in this ‘global village’, but debate must not impede delivery (of development).”
“The hundreds of millions still trapped in dire poverty do not merely want progress; they want development now,” he said. “Piety on paper is not much help to a child in desperate need of medicine in a village hundred miles outside the zone of medical care.”
Akbar’s speech at the high-level meeting on the Right to Development looked at the conflicting agendas of rights and development without identifying the parties to the debate.
Civil society and non-governmental organisations in developing countries, some funded by Western organisations, have dogmatically opposed several development projects that governments and some international institutions consider vital to ending poverty.
“The rapid globalization in the last two decades has brought forth a series of common global challenges such as accelerating climate change, pandemics, large refugee movements, financial crises, inter-linked markets, commodity prices among others,” he said. “A genuine understanding of this inter-dependence can overcome the perceived basic competitive fears and bring us closer in a more collaborative spirit.”
Invoking Mahatma Gandhi who called hunger the worst form of cruelty, Akbar said the people’s right to development “is a government’s duty”. “This duty is simple: economic progress must have a human face, and that is the face of the poor.”
Akbar spoke of the tremendous progress made in alleviating the worst levels of poverty, citing World Bank statistics that show people living in poverty has declined to 10 percent and 200 million have been lifted out of extreme poverty between 2012 and 2015.
But “they cannot eat statistics,” he said. “Food, shelter and an economic future are fundamental human rights. They must become the new normal in every corner of the globe.”
“A world with islands of prosperity amidst a sea of want is not only morally untenable, it is also politically unsustainable. Development is the only guarantee of stability,” he added.
Akbar also made the link between fighting terror and alleviating poverty: “We cannot have prosperity without peace, and the principal threat to peace now is terrorism. The poor are the most vulnerable victims of terrorism, not least because conflict leads to devastation.”
Turning to India’s efforts in fighting poverty, he presented a report card of Prime Minister Narendra Modi government’s anti-poverty efforts ranging from anti-corruption campaigns and the programme for bank accounts for the poor to wide distribution of subsidised gas cylinders and making toilets accessible for all.
(Arul Louis can be reached at [email protected])