According to UN statistics as presented at the conference, extreme poverty worldwide is halved from what it was in 1981, an alleged testament to foreign aid success and the possibility that the UN's eight development goals can be achieved by target year 2015. What wasn't mentioned quite so clearly was that those numbers are from 2005, years before the global financial crisis took hold. I'm assuming that 1.4 billion living on less than $1.25 U.S. a day is a statistical understatement in today's economic climate.
And not everyone agrees that earning a daily income above $1.25 a day actually relieves oneself of the horrors of extreme poverty. According to economist Dambisa Moyo -- author of the controversial anti-aid book, Dead Aid -- extreme poverty is apparently more prevalent today than it was in 1981, at least in Africa. Moyo claims only 10% of Africans were "living in dire economic consequences" in the '70s whereas today, over 70% live on $2 or less a day.
Granted, Moyo is only talking about Africa whereas UN's 1.4 billion represents extreme poverty worldwide. But what's bugging me is their differing definitions of extreme poverty. Why did Moyo, who was born and raised in Zambia, choose $2/day as her extreme poverty marker instead of the World Bank's $1.25/day? Is she saying that living on $2/day -- which by the World Bank's definition removes one from the category of extreme poverty -- still equals a life of destitution, powerlessness and zero social mobility? In other words, is the United Nations playing with the numbers to make itself look like it's achieved a halving milestone when it's done nothing of the sort, is Moyo manipulating figures to support her case against foreign aid or do we have a case of a-bit-of-Column-A-and-a-bit-of-Column-B? Or is it none of the above? By the way, Moyo used to work for the World Bank.
Then, climate change advocate Al Gore's presence at the 2010 edition of the Summit only added to my confusion. In his speech, he cited overpopulation as one of two causes of climate change, which he explained can be mitigated by addressing Millennium Goals: reduce poverty, increase education, promote gender equality, and decreased birth rates will follow. The other cause of climate change as per Gore is technology that produces carbon dioxide emissions, which leads to a question mark that arguably raised as many eyebrows as it did resigned shoulder shrugs: the Montreal Millennium Summit's major sponsor, according to the Journal de Montréal's Mathieu Turbide, is indirectly linked to Alberta's tar sands, Canada's fastest growing source of greenhouse gas emissions. Unfortunately, Gore could not be reached for comment by any press members as he was ushered away from the Summit post-speech to reportedly catch a flight.
Then there's the unbelievably complex issue of foreign aid's effectiveness in the first place. Some claim that for the most part, international aid doesn't work. Others say aid works sometimes. Millennium Summit speaker Hugh Evans admitted onstage that, "some people say to you that aid is part of the problem. And actually, I've got to say that sometimes they're right." But the charismatic humanitarian behind the Global Poverty Project presented examples of effective aid, spelling out that listening to what a community says it needs and then assisting the group in bringing a project to fruition instead of just throwing aid in their direction in a form that one thinks they need, are key.
But how are we supposed to know who is providing aid the "right" way? Who is the watchdog ensuring the world of foreign aid doesn't fall prey to the corruption Evans cited as a major barrier to ending extreme poverty? Which organizations should the average Canadian believe and support? And most of all, what can we realistically do as a collective to make these Millennium Goals achievable by 2015?
If any of you have answers to these questions, please, leave a comment below or contact me directly.