Elizabeth Peredo Beltrán is director of Bolivia's Solon Foundation, an institution dedicated to ecojustice. From 1993-2003 she fought for domestic workers' rights; and then for water rights in Cochabamba, World Social Forum, Food and Water Watch, Red de mulieres, the International Tribunal on Climate Justice, and the Buen Vivir movement. She gave this speech (edited for clarity) at Stand Up in New York City, 2010.
As I speak, one billion persons lack access to clean water and 2.4 billion people to sanitation. Women in the poor countries spend more than 4 hours a day fetching water for their families. 24,000 children die daily in developing countries from preventable causes like diarrhea due to dirty water.
The Millenium Developing Goals are slipping out of reach. Because we talk about poverty, but not about inequality. We fail to talk about what separates human beings from each other. Our leaders do not face up to the real cause -- the dominant economic system.
The 500 richest families in the world now own more wealth than the poorest 500 million! The most powerful 20 economies are not just countries, but huge multinational corporations. The growing gulf between the richest and poorest hinders human solidarity. The gap between rich and poor countries includes a huge historic debt to the poorest in the world, whose commons have been grabbed. Even in the rich countries there are too many poor, and the gap is widening.
And it is not just poverty -- vulnerability is added to poverty. The impacts of climate change on the world's poor get worse every day. Within 8 months of the failure of the Copenhagen negotiations, we saw climate chaos hit people in Russia, Pakistan, Central America, South America just to name a few. Each tragedy increases the numbers of the poor and vulnerable. This is a simple fact.
These floods, fires, droughts and storms warn us that the risks we now face are worse than 10 years ago. Climate impacts will severely affect the MDGs unless rich developed countries substantially reduce their greenhouse emissions, honor their climate debt by transferring substantial financial support and clean technologies to the developing countries, and give the ¨space” for the planet to breathe again.
I come from La Paz, Bolivia. Our glaciers are disappearing even faster than predicted, threatening our access to water and food security. Hundreds of our rural communities depend on the yearly meltwater from mountain ice caps. Millions of people will be affected. Scientists say that our glaciers have no more than 50 years left. And we did not cause the climate crisis. 80% of the world's greenhouse gases are produced by the 20% of humanity who love in developed countries. The richest countries, and the richest people in the world are eating this planet alive, thinking of it as a mere "resource" when common sense tells us it is our only, our common home.
We cannot win the fight against poverty without restoring the equilibrium of nature, without changing the very basis of mercantile, consumerist society; without bridging the deep inequalities between human beings and avoiding self-destruction. We must change the system, not the climate.
The dreams of wealth and success that are sold daily on TV and the media are an illusion. We cannot afford these individualist dreams; they exclude so many. We must think in terms of the global community, of the commonwealth, conscious that unlimited growth on a limited planet is impossible. If everyone had the same level of consumption as the average of the rich countries, we would need more than three planet Earths.
That is why in Bolivia, people are turning to a new (and very traditional) principle of life -- SUMA QAMAÑA -- in the Quechua language, that means Bien Vivir: Living Well. This principle is incorporated in our new Constitution. It means that the good life is the wellbeing of all -- not the self-enrichment of a few by limitless growth. Growth that would eat up biodiversity, deepen human inequality and destroy life in the planet. We have to revision human development as "common wealth", as equilibrium and equality -- harmony with nature, empathy between people.
If mere words could change the world, we would have been living in a real different reality decades ago. People have the will to change, but we need to convince our leaders to commit themselves to the wellbeing of all, to adjust their every action to the logic of life on this planet. We cannot fight poverty by investing in wars and weapons rather than in people. We cannot foster the MDGs while increasing racial intolerance and marginalization. It is time for world leaders to make decisions; we ask them to make the right ones.