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Poverty Reduction in France
Nearly 9 million people in France, about 14% of the population, live under the poverty line, defined as 60% of the median income. However, the large total number does not necessarily mean destitution. Under the same criterion, the poverty rate in France is lower than that in many other developed countries. Moreover, France has long been active in reducing poverty at national, European and global levels, and many other countries have drawn lessons from various exemplary innovations in poverty eradication in France. 

France and the UN

In 1989, France proposed the resolution 1989/10 to the Human Rights Commission (HRC) of the United Nations, requesting to give particular attention to extreme poverty and exclusion from society. It was the first time that the commission raised extreme poverty as an independent issue, and the adoption of the resolution marked the starting-point of the U.N.’s work on extreme poverty and human rights.

From then on, every year, France presented a resolution on extreme poverty to the HRC. In 2012, France presented a resolution together with 39 other countries and had it adopted as The Guiding Principles on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights. The document sets out the principles that form the basis for all poverty reduction and eradication policies, such as rights of the child, equality between men and women, transparency and access to information, etc.

Over decades of international solidarity policies, the number of people in extreme poverty around the world has successfully dropped by more than half since 1990. In 2015, the U.N. set the global Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) of 2030, including eradicating extreme poverty and hunger in every corner of the globe. Following this universal call, France’s main aim is to adopt national and international policies to remedy current situations of extreme poverty and inequality.

Governmental Anti-poverty Plan

In September 2018, French President Emmanuel Macron — though people sometimes criticize him as a “president of the rich” — announced an €8 billion national anti-poverty plan. The new plan focused on helping the young from poor families and dealing with unemployment and introduced various innovations in poverty eradication in France. Macron announced compulsory school or vocational training for all until the age of 18 and free breakfast at primary school for the poorest students as well as subsidized school lunches for €1 each. He also granted funding to open new daycare centers and other extra crèche places in the most deprived regions in France, in order to help new mothers return to work. The government promised to reform the social benefits system and to extend completely free healthcare to several million more people.

By the beginning of 2020, the French government had allocated €1.9 million to the Red Cross and other welfare organizations in Mayotte, one of the poorest of all the 101 French départements.

Fourth World People’s University

A French priest, Joseph Wresinski, founded the ATD Fourth World organization in France in 1957, aiming toward the eradication of global poverty. Fifteen years later, the organization established the Fourth World People’s University that provides people living in poverty with opportunities to participate in political and public life as well as in the production of first-hand knowledge of fighting against poverty. In regular meetings and dialogues, people in extreme poverty share opinions and experience with others who work in solidarity with them, and they together work for a more inclusive world. Since then, having their voice heard, people have benefited from People’s Universities in eight regions throughout France and in a dozen other countries.

In 2019, some 100 participants of the European Fourth World People’s Unversity gathered at the European Parliament in Brussels and met with European deputies and various European institutions. They delivered the messages from the poor and discussed how the E.U. can address poverty, by stressing the impact of family-related policies on people living in poverty and working on indicators of poverty.

International Day for the Eradication of Poverty (IDEP)

On October 17, 1987, Wresinski gathered 100,000 people on the Human Rights and Liberties Plaza in Paris and launched the first commemoration to the victims of poverty and hunger. In 1992, in memory of the death of the humanist priest, the United Nations instituted the date of October 17 as the official annual International Day for the Eradication of Poverty, to help the people living in extreme poverty fight actively and to make their voices heard. For the IDEP of 2018, France and Burkina Faso organized a conference at the U.N. in New York, delivering speeches from ambassadors, activists as well as people living in extreme poverty, to advocate the U.N. goal of eradicating extreme poverty for everyone, everywhere.

Throughout the years, the world has witnessed many regional anti-poverty movements and innovations in poverty eradication in France become international. It is time for other affluent countries to learn the experience and take up more global responsibilities to reach the 2030 goal of the eradication of extreme poverty.

– Jingyan Zhang
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Martinique's Pesticide Poisoning
From 1972 to 1993, Martinique used the pesticide chlordecone in banana plantations to eliminate the weevil, a type of beetle that was infesting the lands. Mainland France banned the use of this extremely toxic pesticide. However, the French government still authorized its use in the French West islands of Martinique and Guadeloupe. The chemical contaminated over 20,000 hectares of land between both islands. The world finally banned chlordecone production in 2009. However, it was too late to reverse the health damages Martinique’s pesticide poisoning left on the people of Martinique and the environment.

For almost five decades, the people of this island have been dealing with serious public health issues that chlordecone caused. Some of the issues include prostate cancer, nervous system disorders, high rates of premature births and exposure through breast milk. There is no viable decontamination method. In addition, traces of the pesticide will likely remain in the soil for at least 700 years. Martinique’s pesticide poisoning will come under control once the French government provides the funding for research that will allow a deeper understanding of the situation.

The People of Martinique

Ninety-two percent of the citizens on this island have tested positive for chlordecone poisoning. Contamination has reached the water and food supply, livestock and even marine life. This slow poisoning has caused many mothers to have premature babies. As a result, premature births are four times higher than the national average in Martinique. The contamination also affects the island’s men. Martinique has one of the highest prostate cancer rates in the world with 577 new cases reported in 2018.

The pesticide is also affecting the children of Martinique. Nineteen percent of children tested for chlordecone exceeded the toxic dose. Contaminated and breastfeeding mothers are unintentionally poisoning their children through their milk. As the kids grow older, dietary exposure to chlordecone continues. This will increase their chances of developing cancer later on in life.

The Economy of Martinique

Because chlordecone poisoning has reached the waters surrounding Martinique, fishermen are having trouble staying in business. Thirty-three percent of coastal waters surrounding the island has a ban on fishing to prevent more citizens from eating poisoned food. Although this ban has kept the citizens safe, many families who rely on fishing to make a living are now struggling financially. The French government is providing some aid to these families. However, reports indicate that only 50 out of 506 fishermen received any aid. Depression and suicide are common within the fishing communities in Martinique.

Chemical contamination is also hurting the island’s exports. Martinique can no longer export much of the foods grown on the island to mainland France due to its lack of safety. This has not only hurt the economy but has also caused an uproar and a call for justice for the people of Martinique. France has banned the contaminated food. However, many in Martinique only have contaminated food. Many of the island’s citizens find this unfair. People started protests and campaigns in an attempt to get the attention of the French government. In September 2019, the president of France, Emmanuel Macron, made a pledge to increase the budget for food controls of contaminated lands.

The Solutions for Martinique’s Pesticide Poisoning

Despite the lack of action by the French government, the farmers of Martinique have started to search for alternative solutions. Many of them are starting to grow their crops above land by using trees. Chlordecone is unable to travel through tree trunks which means that any crop that grows through trees will be chlordecone free. Lab testing has confirmed the lack of the toxic chemical in their crops. They are able to provide the people of Martinique with safe foods.

Along with growing food above land, farmers have started using alternative substances such as aldicarb, isophenphos, phenamiphos, cadusaphos and terbuphos which has stopped further spread of the toxic pesticide.

Despite these solutions, one of the biggest ways that the French government can help the people of Martinique is by providing the funding for research that will help them better understand chlordecone’s movement through the soil and water. Without this research, providing successful solutions will be impossible, and the people of Martinique will continue to suffer. Along with this, the government should also implement education to the population on how they can minimize their exposure to the toxic pesticide. Because the French government has ignored this issue for so long, the lack of understanding over how the pesticide threatens the environment and human health is unsettling and gaining knowledge should be the first step in solving Martinique’s pesticide poisoning. The French government has the funding and power to give the people of Martinique the quality of life they deserve.

– Jannette Aguirre
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

the fight to end AIDSOn June 21, President Emmanuel Macron presented Elton John with the highest decoration in France, the Legion of Honour, at the Champs Élysées. It was given during France’s Fête de la Musique in recognition of John’s notable mark on the music industry. The musician’s speech, however, did not focus on his own artistic abilities or the celebration. Rather, John concentrated on the global maladies plaguing the world’s impoverished countries.

In particular, John highlighted the fight to end AIDS as an issue of “great importance.” He further vowed to join Macron in his effort to help those suffering from the illness and prevent it from spreading. In order to achieve this goal, the two have called upon the world’s youth and political leaders to replenish the donation given to the Global Fund.

What is the Global Fund?

The Global Fund is an international organization that aims to strengthen health systems. To do so, the organization focuses on locating and treating individuals with AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria. Over 100 countries have received aid from the Global Fund since its establishment in 2002.

Macron is affiliated with this organization as France is both a founding member and a top financial contributor. Many of the countries who receive aid from the Global Fund were once colonies of the French Empire. To date, France has given more than $4.2 billion in donations to the organization since 2002.

Global Fund Accomplishments

The three diseases, AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria, affect the same population. The organization thus allocates funds in proportion to the amount of population affected in each receiving country. In the past, countries such as Nigeria, Tanzania, and the Democratic Republic of Congo have received the most aid.

The Global Fund has an impressive list of achievements. Since 2002, it has saved 27 million individuals through treatment and prevention methods. Moreover, these accomplishments highlight the efficiency of the organization. In 2017, 17.5 million people were treated with antiretroviral therapy for HIV, 5 million were treated for tuberculosis and 197 million were provided mosquito nets to prevent the spread of malaria. By 2030, the Global Funds hopes to end all three epidemics.

Using Influence to do Good

France has proven to be dedicated to both the Global Fund and the fight to end AIDS. Next October, France will host the organization’s conference in Lyon. In anticipation of the upcoming event, Macron and John have called to raise $14 billion in funding over the next three years.

These ambitious goals become more attainable as awareness increases. John’s speech and Macron’s mobilization in the fight to end AIDS incentivizes the French community. If AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria, are to be terminated by 2030, they will require acute attention and enthusiasm on the part of those fighting to these diseases.

– Annie O’Connell
Photo: Flickr