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Religious leaders have joined the heads of faith-based organizations to issue a declaration stating, “ For the first time in human history, we can do more than simply envision a world free of extreme poverty; we can make it a reality. We have ample evidence from the World Bank Group and others showing that we can now end extreme poverty within fifteen years.”
Religious leaders first met on Feb. 18 at the World Bank’s “Faith Based and Religious Leaders Roundtable’ in Washington, DC, where Suneet Singh Tuli, board member of EcoSikh, participated. More than 30 religious leaders and heads of global faith-based organizations, including American Jewish World Service President Ruth Messinger, Catholic Relief Services President Carolyn Yauyan Woo and Salvation Army General Andre Cox. Signatories also include the executive director of the Anglican Alliance, Rev Rachel Carnegie, secretary general of Caritas Internationalis, Michael Roy, Sojourner’s Jim Wallis, the chief executive officer of Islamic Relief International, Dr Mohamed Ashmawey and the president of World Vision International, Kevin Jenkins.
The faith leaders have given a call for a comprehensive approach, noting that the underlying causes of poverty, and not just its symptoms, need to be addressed. “It calls for a holistic and sustainable approach that transforms cultures and institutions, and hearts as well as minds,” they say. Climate change, which affects the world’s most vulnerable communities most, must be addressed, as well as the second-class treatment of women and girls in many parts of the world.
Following a February meeting with World Bank President Dr. Jim Kim, EcoSikh has issued the joint moral imperative outlining the role of faith communities especially from Sikh perspective to end extreme poverty. In particular, EcoSikh has stressed the importance of understanding how environmental degradation exacerbates poverty and vice versa.
“The state of environment is a crucial factor in understanding extreme poverty. Most Sikhs know of the severe droughts occurring in Punjab, but we must also understand how environmental degradation decreases crop production, therefore causing food insecurity and an overall increase in poverty. When the farmer cannot produce wheat, he takes a loss, but the village that buys his wheat will also suffer. This is why we must make sure that the health of the environment is taken into consideration when we talk about ending poverty,” said EcoSikh board member Suneet Singh Tuli.
World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim spoke at the launch of this moral imperative and said, “Faith leaders and the World Bank Group share a common goal – to realize a world free of extreme poverty in just 15 years. The moral imperative can help drive the movement to end poverty by 2030 by inspiring large communities to act now and to advocate for governments to do the same. These commitments from religious leaders come at just the right time – their actions can help hundreds of millions of people lift themselves out of poverty.”
In the statement, signatories state that extreme poverty hinders human potential, insults human dignity and thwarts development.“ The faith groups hope that their united effort will be able to lead as an example of what religious communities can do to solve the world’s most difficult and complex problems. Signatories to the statement include organizations from Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, Sikh and interfaith backgrounds.
According to the most recent estimates by the World Bank Group, 17 per cent of people in the developing world lived at or below $1.25 a day in 2011, a fall from 43 per cent in 1990 and 52 per cent in 1981. There are currently thought to be about 1.2 billion people living in extreme poverty.
“As a Sikh organization, EcoSikh welcomes the opportunity to work with other faiths and the World Bank in directing faith communities’ efforts in ending extreme poverty,” said U.S. Program Manager Sumeet Kaur. “We know this is a much needed step in the path toward ensuring economic and environmental justice for all,” she added.
The statement closes by framing the imperative in stark terms: “Poverty’s imprisonment of more than a billion men, women and children must end. Now is the time to boldly act to free the next generation from extreme poverty’s grip.”
Ending Extreme Poverty: A Moral and Spiritual Imperative notes that remarkable progress has been made in reducing extreme poverty. Over 25 years the world has gone from nearly 2 billion people to fewer than 1 billion living in extreme poverty. Now, for the first time in human history there exists both the capacity and moral responsibility to ensure that no one has to live in extreme poverty’s grip.
“We have ample evidence from the World Bank Group and others showing that we can now end extreme poverty within fifteen years,” the Moral Imperative statement notes. “In 2015, our governments will be deciding upon a new global sustainable development agenda that has the potential to build on our shared values to finish the urgent task of ending extreme poverty.”