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Don’t forget poorest in global credit crisis plead churches, aid groups


Leaders of churches and related organizations warned on World Food Day that the global financial crisis may have even more drastic consequences for the world’s poorest people than for its major economic centres.

"The global credit crisis will have dramatic consequences for the poorest, because those who fund them are hit by the breakdown," said John Nduna, director of Geneva-based ACT International, a faith-based global humanitarian alliance that is present in more than 75 countries.

"A significant part of our funding comes from individuals through churches in Europe and North America," said Nduna, a Zambian who has headed the agency since 2006. "They are hit by the financial crisis and that will affect their private budgets. Many struggle with loans, risk losing their jobs and small businesses might close down. Our contributors will have less to offer and our emergency work will be affected."

Nduna warned in a statement on 16 October, the United Nations’ World Food Day, that the financial meltdown is likely to dramatically affect those who are facing chronic food crises, such people in as Ethiopia, Zimbabwe, the Democratic Republic of Congo, India and Afghanistan.

"The irony is that the European and American governments are now pumping in hundreds of billions of dollars to help their banks and financial institutions, so they still can service the market," he noted. "We ask for little. Just 30 percent of our funding comes from governments, but they seem to make their first cuts on aid. Where are their priorities?"

The general secretary of the World Council of Churches, the Rev. Samuel Kobia, said, "The churches need to continue to hold international institutions, governments, corporations and financial speculators accountable for the realisation of the right to food and food sovereignty," while also continuing with their advocacy work.

The main governing body of the Conference of European Churches, its central committee, which met in Cyprus from 6 to 11 October, urged "governments to be most concerned about protecting the most vulnerable of citizens".

The European church grouping said, "The present crisis has made it very evident that the financial economy has become increasingly distant from the economy of goods and services." CEC said it supports the "need for transparency and better control of the financial market". It called for churches to undertake studies about the ethical dimension of the contemporary economic system.

The world’s poorest people have been afflicted with the consequences of the financial crisis following a dramatic rise in food prices in 2007. The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization has said the increase of food prices added 75 more million people to the ranks of the hungry in 2007.

Atle Sommerfelt, general secretary of Norwegian Church Aid, noted, "The image painted by the media is that the greatest world crisis today is the financial crisis on Wall Street. The real crisis is that there are 2.5 billion people on our planet who survive on less than US$2 a day.

"The poor countries see it as extremely serious that the West refuses to take their situation seriously. US$500 billion has been loaned out irresponsibly to dictators. Congo, for example, which at this time is struggling to deal with the greatest humanitarian emergency there is, is being forced to repay billions of dollars that [its former dictator] Mobutu [Sese Seko] loaned when he was in power."

Sushant Agrawal, director of the Church’s Auxiliary for Social Action in India observed, "If you look back 25 years, people were more engaged in producing millet, sorghum and other staple food grains. But now there is a total shift from producing staple foods to cash crops and biofuels, which is making the poor even more vulnerable because they lose their power and control over their livelihood."

(c) Ecumenical News International