Closing the gap between the world’s elite and the world’s poor: a critical step towards peace

To build peace, we must promote fair and sustainable development that will relieve inequalities. Inequalities can drive and perpetuate conflict, which, in turn, hinders all aspects of development – leaving conflict areas caught in a continuous struggle.

A Somali woman looks out from the doorway of a shop in Kismayo, Somalia
A Somali woman looks out from the doorway of a shop in Kismayo, Somalia

Published a day before the 2016 World Economic Forum, Oxfam’s latest research report breaks down some startling figures. In 2010, the 388 richest people in the world had the same wealth as the poorest half of the entire world population. As of 2015, the top 62 richest people in the world have as much wealth as 3.6 billion people, again, the half of the world’s population with the lowest wealth. Comparing the 2010 report to the 2015 report shows wealth inequality is increasing, and we need to do something about it.

To build peace, we must promote fair and sustainable development that will relieve inequalities. Inequalities can drive and perpetuate conflict, which, in turn, hinders all aspects of development – leaving conflict areas caught in a continuous struggle.

Income inequality impedes growth and hits the poorest of the world the hardest, whose wages plateau while chief executive salaries continue to increase rapidly. Not to mention that rising income inequality intensifies other inequalities (to illustrate: 53 out of those 62 wealthiest people are men). To close this wealth gap and therefore ameliorate other existing inequalities, Oxfam has made suggestions for policy-makers that stress transparency and easier accessibility. They have also called for an approach that would require all countries, developed and developing, to cooperate in ensuring a multilateral system for exchanging information on a regular basis.

In addition to Oxfam’s suggestions of governmental participation, we should also focus on the advocacy of local peacebuilding. The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) for 2030 aim to further the Millenium Development Goals (MDGs) of 2015 with a new set of objectives. The MDGs reached the goal of halving the world’s extreme poverty, but now the bar is set higher with SDG #1: to eradicate extreme poverty altogether. In addition, the SDGs now also make clear the important link between development and peace. SDG 16 sets a goal of promoting “just, peaceful, and inclusive societies” as a critical part of the global development agenda.

If we are to reduce inequalities and violence and find permanent, peaceful solutions to conflict, local communities themselves must be at the forefront of leading the peacebuilding and development agendas in their societies. By supporting local peacebuilding, we support sustainable solutions to conflicts and strengthen the development potential of societies. Building peace from the ground up, instead of trying to impose it externally, is lasting and results positively in every aspect of a society, including the economy. Extreme violence and conflict have dire effects on a country’s economic growth and result in injustices that last for years. Areas that are ridden with conflict have to face healthcare costs, the costs of criminal justice and social welfare responses, in addition to the costs of lost productivity and security services that could have been put to more constructive social spending. Promoting peaceful alternatives to violence and advocating for human rights is vital to the process of eradicating injustices and reducing global inequality.

We can look to Somalia as an example of how violence hinders development, in all aspects including economic development. Decades of extreme violence and civil war have destroyed Somalia’s economy and infrastructure, exacerbating poverty and famine. Yet from within Somalia, we can find hope in a peacebuilding project recently launched by Peace Direct and funded by the EU. This project aims to train over a thousand young people in leadership and conflict management so that they will have the skills necessary to prevent violence when tensions grow; these participants will then go on to train other young people in what they have learned. In addition, the project will give vocational training and apprenticeships to participants so that they will gain the skills to earn a living and contribute constructively to the development of their societies.

We can close the wealth gap by 2030, country by country, while promoting just, peaceful, and inclusive societies. A call to policy-makers and for government participation is crucial, promotion of peaceful and just societies is vital, and taking action is critical. Without change, the current trend of increasing wealth inequality will continue, compounding conflict and undermining the right to human dignity for all, and the world can’t afford that.

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