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Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Letter from the editor

As world leaders convene this week in New York for the UN conference on world poverty it seems almost apocryphal that they gather in the wake of Katrina, dying in the north Atlantic and Ophelia, raging up from the south. In the midst of one of the worst storm seasons in history another storm is brewing that is even worse, so vast and deadly that it threatens not just one country or a single great city drowned on the Gulf coast but an entire generation, an estimated 400 million who will die of starvation, poverty inflicted disease, and related causes this year.

The 2005 storm season bears one critical message above all others which is that no matter how powerful, how wealthy or proud a nation might be we all live just a paycheck away from disaster, poverty and ruin. The third most powerful storm just 5 years into this century temporarily deprived our economy of its life's blood oil supply and in less than a week, gas prices rose 50%. The irony is that this is still approximately just half of what the rest of the world pays. Hundreds, perhaps a thousand died when they encountered Katrina and a tried and tested emergency relief system collapsed utterly. Yet, we will rebuild New Orleans not just as a city but as a nation because as a nation we can afford the $100 or even $200 Billion it will cost. Leading economies across the globe are capable of rebuilding and surviving such a storm but what of the 'third world,' what is such a storm or tsunami or crop failure mean in their lives. How do they survive, how do they rebuild?

A new strain of wheat rust, UG99, recently emerged in Uganda and now threatens to leap across continents, decimating the world's second most critical grain crop. If that happens, something that has not occurred since 1950, millions will die.

In Africa cholera has reemerged and threatens tens of thousands mostly, children and the elderly, and year after year on this planet 8 million souls die from simply not having clean water to drink.

The world's 500 wealthiest individuals combined have the same income as the world's 416 million poorest. The US still provides only 16 cents of every $100 of income toward eradicating poverty, considerably less than the 70 cents/$100 targeted during the Clinton administration.

The storm is rising and it's been rising steadily as we, distracted as we are in our isolation and focused on day to day cares, continue to disregard the awful portent of a single, perfect storm of hunger, disease and poverty that threatens horrific disaster world wide - figuratively just a paycheck away.

The UN and its member nation's leaders should head the catastrophic lessons learned by America this storm season and look toward the horizon and the storm approaching. Poverty can be lessened dramatically if we make a committed, almost painless effort to ease trade restrictions as we did this year on sugar from South America. Disease will succumb finally to free drug distribution programs like that of the Global Alliance for Vaccinations and Immunization and other grass roots enterprises that promote clean wells technology and reforestation which puts thousands of people to meaningful work providing not only gainful employment and healthier communities but can in fact rebuild lives. If every household in the United States, approximately 106 Million according to the current census, could generate just $100 a year by recycling plastic bags, old batteries, paper, glass and aluminum that would create a little over $1 Billion a year, enough to begin to restore a region devastated by famine, reinstate a people to economic independence or rebuild a city.

We, our leaders, our UN and our corporate and private institutions must endeavor to re-partner in the land, the oceans and the air we breathe if we want to avoid the storm that threatens us all. Only in practices that sustain our environment will we be able to resurrect the planet and all its living systems including man.

H Weikle, Managing editor