This spring the Charlottesville City Council joined over 50 other American cities in proclaiming that we are a “CITY OF ONE.” What does this mean? This is a part of a campaign called “ONE: The Campaign to Make Poverty History.” It is an effort by Americans to rally Americans—ONE by ONE—to join the United Nations’ “Millennium Campaign” to end world extreme poverty and fight global AIDS.
ONE is championed by rock star Bono. He writes: “Hunger, disease, the waste of lives that is extreme poverty are an affront to all of us.” He points out that “fifteen thousand Africans are dying each and every day of preventable, treatable diseases—AIDS, malaria, TB—for lack of drugs that we take for granted.”
In proclaiming that Charlottesville is a CITY OF ONE, Mayor David Brown writes, “I encourage everyone to recognize the devastating impact extreme poverty and global AIDS have around the world and take action to bring about change.”
Extreme poverty refers to persons earning less than $1 a day. One fifth of the world’s population—1.2 billion people—live in extreme poverty. Poverty in the developing world means having to walk more than a mile every day simply to collect water and firewood. It means suffering diseases that were eradicated from rich countries decades ago. Every year 11 million children die, most under the age of 5, and more than 6 million from preventable causes like malaria, diarrhea and pneumonia. Most Americans are unaware of impoverished people’s daily struggle for survival and the vast number of people who lose that struggle.
ONE proposes that the U.S. government allocate an additional ONE percent of the U.S. federal budget toward helping the world’s poorest countries. This assistance will help these countries develop their ability to meet their basic needs for health, education, food, and clean water to transform the futures and hopes of an entire generation in these countries. ONE also calls for debt cancellation, trade reform and anti-corruption measures to help Africa and the poorest nations beat AIDS and extreme poverty.
Americans have always been generous when tragedy strikes. Yet only about 0.5 percent of the federal budget goes to humanitarian and development assistance that will help poor countries meet their needs to emerge from poverty. The European Union gives three times as much in total dollars for development assistance as the United States. If the U.S. would give an additional ONE percent of our federal budget for development assistance, this would raise U.S. support in terms of percentage of our national income to an amount comparable to the European Union.
Our heritage calls us to assist the world’s extreme poor out of their devastating poverty trap—both our religious and our secular heritage. Christians are constantly challenged by Matthew 25 on helping the poor: “Truly, I say to you, as you did it to the least of these my brethren, you did it unto me.” This admonition to help the poor applies generally to all faiths. Secular Americans also believe in fairness and the Golden Rule.
Moreover, it is in our nation’s self-interest to eliminate world poverty. A link between poverty and terrorism is widely understood. President Bush said in March 2002, “Persistent poverty and oppression can lead to hopelessness and despair. And when governments fail to meet the most basic needs of their people, these failed states can become havens for terror.” Colin Powell, serving as Secretary of State, said, “If we want to win the war on terrorism, we must win the war against poverty.”
Americans need to encourage Congress to support ONE’s proposed funding increase of ONE percent of our federal budget for development assistance. Individuals can join ONE by signing the ONE Declaration on the ONE website, www.ONE.org. We can be proud that Charlottesville has signed on as a CITY OF ONE in the worldwide effort to make poverty history.
Albert Reynolds is a board member of the Blue Ridge Virginia Chapter of the United Nations Association of the USA and a professor emeritus of nuclear engineering at the University