A NEW report from Christian Aid warns that the effects of the climate crisis and the pandemic necessitate a radical rethinking of “paths to human flourishing”.
Two years in the making, The Christian Aid poverty report: Reimagining paths to human flourishing, published on Wednesday, highlights improvements that have been made over recent decades. However, the former Archbishop of York Lord Sentamu, who chairs Christian Aid’s Board of Trustees, writes in the foreword that “we must never be blind to the deep injustices that continue to scar our world.
“Solving the problem of poverty can never be simply a matter of political or policy change. It is profoundly relational, and requires us to transform ourselves, as well as the structures around us, so that we can flourish with the full dignity that God intends for every person. This inherent dignity is not optional, bought or earned, and leaves no room for discrimination on grounds of ethnicity, gender, sexuality, age or religion.”
Figures in the report show that levels of extreme poverty around the world fell from 29 per cent in 1981 to 12 per cent in 2013. The report argues that successes in bringing large numbers of people out of extreme poverty “do not weaken the urgency of the struggle to end poverty”, but should instead “intensify the pressure” to do more.
Christian Aid was founded in 1945, and the report notes that the world then was “a radically different place from the world we inhabit today”, with less than a third of today’s population. Educational opportunity has grown hugely in recent years, with more than 70 per cent of children in Least Developed Countries completing primary schooling in 2019, a 28 percentage point increase from the figure in 1990.
The gap in education opportunity between boys and girls has “narrowed dramatically” in the same period, and the report argues that “far-reaching changes in the status of women and girls” are linked to an “increased political voice” for women, “which has driven a virtuous circle of further gains for gender equality.”
It notes, however, that the Covid-19 pandemic has, among many other things, caused “massive educational disruption” that affects “the poorest children hardest”, and driven what the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN Women) has called a “shadow pandemic” of domestic abuse.
The report identifies “vaccine nationalism” — the subordination of the “ethical imperative of equitable vaccination to national and corporate self-interest” — as responsible for prolonging the pandemic and making it more deadly. The pandemic-related issues facing poorer countries with lower vaccination rates are not only at the level of higher fatalities, but also a worse “social and economic aftershock from the pandemic”.
The report goes on to say that “environmental destruction and damage represents an even bigger threat” than the pandemic to poverty reduction. “As with the degradation of land and waters, the poorest people are most exposed to the climate crisis, since they are more likely to be reliant on agriculture, live in areas that are exposed to the greatest storm and flood risks, and have the fewest financial buffers to withstand climate-related shocks and losses.
“Christian Aid’s work with smallholder farmers in Chikwawa district in Malawi illustrates the challenge: farmers are making the most of improved access to weather forecasting and climate-resilient agricultural methods. But the long-term sustainability of these efforts is threatened by increasingly erratic rainfall which continues to push people off the land and into alternative strategies for survival.”
The subtitle of the report, “reimagining paths to human flourishing”, points towards the “urgent need for an approach to development that is less centred on growth and acquisition, and more on wellbeing and flourishing”.
The report asserts that “a Christian vision of development is rooted in the belief that people are made in the image and likeness of God and have an innate dignity.”
At the online launch event for the new report, on Tuesday, the theologian the Revd Dr Kuzipa Nalwamba, of the World Council of Churches, praised the fact that the photographs in the report were captioned with the names of the people featured in them. “It’s empowering — they’re not just a ‘poor face’,” she said.
The report argues that “recognising the agency of people living in poverty and respecting their dignity is a good in itself,” but “it can also be a practically effective way to strengthen communities’ ability to protect their livelihoods and other interests, and to increase the accountability of the state and other powerful actors.”
The full report can be read here