At the start of the year, who would have believed that a meeting of world leaders at a Scottish golf resort would inspire the largest popular music event the world has yet seen, or that Africa would be big news in the media? UN summits, meetings of the World Bank and IMF, and even the World Trade Organisation have all hit the headlines as never before, and the main theme has been the eradication of poverty.
We were told back in January that this was the year to Make Poverty History. The message was that decisions made this year would save lives. But did they? Was it all just so much hype and obfuscation, or was something concrete achieved?
The bitter irony that the famine in Niger only broke into the world news agenda after it had been going on (and ignored) for some months (and just as the G8 Summit and Live8 came to an end) cannot go unremarked upon, because the reality is that quick fixes for poverty do not exist. It will take generations even to see some nations climb out of poverty. For all the lip service and posturing of the media stars, thousands were dying unnoticed in an all too preventable famine.
While arguments abound as to whether it is aid or trade, entrepreneurship or nongovernmental organisations, privatised or pubic utilities that will end poverty, and while the academics and governments bicker at the UN, G8 and WTO, the poor carry on dying. Jesus'striking words to the Pharisees come to mind,'You strain out a gnat only to swallow a camel!'
But some things were achieved at the G8 – some major steps in debt relief, a few hesitant steps on aid. Less happened at the UN Summit. The whole issue of fairer trade was shelved until the WTO meeting in December 2005, where it may stay on the shelf even longer. Small steps then, not major changes. Some lives may be saved in the short to medium term, but nothing major will change for the millions living in grinding poverty. Not this year, or next.
The reality is that it will take time to end extreme poverty effectively. As we have said before in Triple Helix, part of the mission that Christ calls us to is to help those in need and speak up on their behalf.
It would be easy to be discouraged and think nothing has happened, but the illusion that crept into the popular consciousness through such well-meaning events as Live8 was that the changes would all happen this year in one go. The reality is that it will be incremental steps that lead to change. Persistence, being in it for the long haul, that is what we are called to, not quick fixes.