Terror Fear Blinding World to Major Threat of Poverty

By J.R. Pegg

WASHINGTON, DC, January 13, 2005, (ENS) - The global war on terrorism is diverting much-needed attention from the root causes of global instability and overshadowing "graver threats" that threaten humanity's future, according to the Worldwatch Institute's State of the World 2005.

"Poverty, disease and environmental decline are the true axis of evil," said Christopher Flavin, president of the U.S. based research group. "Unless the world takes action to improve economic and environmental conditions around the world, security officials will face an uphill battle in dealing with the many consequences of vulnerable societies-from wars and terrorism to heightened impacts from natural disasters."

Worldwatch says terrorist attacks - and the responses they provoke - are symptoms of the underlying sources of global instability, including the dangerous interplay among poverty, hunger, infectious disease, environmental degradation, and rising resource competition.

"None of these issues respect human-drawn boundaries - they are problems without passports," said Michael Renner, co-project director of the 180 page report.

These problems create conditions ripe for political instability, warfare, and extremism that are compounded by the ready availability of deadly weapons, Renner said.

Failure to deal with the root causes of insecurity "could lead the world into a dangerous downward spiral win which the basic fabric of nations is called into question, political fault lines deepen, and radicalization grows," according to the Worldwatch report. poorkids

Some 815 million people worldwide are chronically hungry. (Photo by F. Mattioli, courtesy U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization)
Addressing the problems that cause instability is a daunting task, Worldwatch acknowledged in its report.

The gap between the world's poorest and richest nations has more than doubled since 1960 - almost half of humanity lives on less than $2 a day.

Some 2 billion people suffer from hunger and malnutrition.

More than 430 million individuals face water scarcity - a figure estimated to soar to 2.6 billion to 3.1 billion by 2025.

Infectious diseases kill more than 14 million people a year and some 34 to 46 million individuals are infected with HIV/AIDS.

The developing world also faces a potentially dangerous "youth bulge," Renner said, as a rising number of young adults are unemployed and face a bleak future.

Worldwide more than 200 million young people are unemployed or do not make enough to support a family - the report's authors caution that these individuals can be "a destabilizing force" if their discontent leads them to crime or extremism.

But a serious bid to solve these problems would not take a huge investment, the report's authors write, given what nations are currently spending on defense.

Annual global military spending has risen to some $1 trillion - with the United States responsible for more than a third of that total.

The report recommends the world - led by developed nations - shift some 10 percent of total military spending into development aid.

Even that figure of $100 billion is less than half what the United States spent last year to wage the war in Iraq, Renner said.

"Weapons do not necessarily provide security," Renner told reporters Wednesday. "A more sustainable and equitable world is a more secure world." tsunami

The tsunami disaster could provide a unique opportunity to shift the debate about global security, Worldwatch said. (Photo by Agus Muldya courtesy Jakarta Independent Media Center)
Rising resource competition also presents a major global security challenge, according to the report, as resource exploitation played a role in about "one quarter of the approximately 50 wars and armed conflicts in recent years."

In the 1990s alone, resource conflicts led to the deaths of five million people and the displacement of another 17 to 21 million.

Tackling the world's growing thirst for oil remains a major part of any strategy to increase stability, Worldwatch said, as continued dependence fuels geopolitical rivalries, economic insecurity, civil wars and environmental degradation.

The United Nations can be a key driver of change, the report said, but is in need of reform in order to address current and future security challenges.

The UN Security Council should be expanded so that it no longer reflects "the world immediately after World War II" and better represents the developing world, said Hilary French, co-project director of the report.

The tsunami disaster illustrates the need for a coordinated, international disaster response team and the report recommends the UN be reformed to take on that role.

The devastation of the tsunami, and the world's response, "should severe as a catalyst for reframing the discussion on the essentials of human security," French added.

"We see a lot of hope from the new spirit of global cooperation in the response to the tsunami disaster," she told reporters. "That can help sow the seeds for longer-term solutions."