Peter Bell urges greater individual and government efforts in fighting
February 22, 2003
Transcription of Bell's speech
by Steven Schultz
At a time when Iraq, terrorism and the domestic
economy dominate the national agenda, the need to combat global
poverty is more pressing than ever, humanitarian leader Peter Bell
told a Princeton audience Saturday.
Bell, president of the international development and relief organization
CARE USA, said that both pragmatic and moral arguments demand a
response to the fact that half the world population is living on
$2 a day or less and 40 percent of those face the extreme poverty
of $1 a day.
The end of poverty "begins with us," Peter Bell said.
photo: Denise Applewhite
"People in extreme poverty live in a world severely circumscribed,"
Bell said in a talk that marked the start of the University's annual
Alumni Day. "They reside in the flimsiest houses on the most precarious
sites; they are hit hardest by natural disasters; and they are most
exposed to infectious diseases like HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis.
They are balanced every day on a razor's edge of crisis."
Bell, who earned a master's degree from the Woodrow Wilson School
of International and Public Affairs in 1964, was on campus to receive
the James Madison Medal, the University's highest honor for a graduate
alumnus. He has been president of CARE since 1995 and served on
its board of directors for seven years before that.
Illustrating his talk with moving stories of people he has met
while visiting CARE operations around the world, Bell pressed the
case for greater individual and government involvement in fighting
poverty. Economic and social development of poor countries, he said,
would enrich industrialized countries and render them more secure.
Such progress also would "reduce global population growth, restrain
illegal immigration and control the spread of infectious diseases."
However, the most compelling reason, he said, is a moral one. "Poverty
is, first and foremost, an assault upon the dignity of a person,
and each of us bears a responsibility to affirm and protect the
dignity of others."
Improving the situation, he said, means attacking the many root
causes that trap people in poverty despite their constant hard work
and desire for improvement: the HIV/AIDS pandemic, lack of access
to basic education, lack of access to clean water, poor governance,
discrimination, civil conflict and harmful trade policies.
Bell praised U.S. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, who was in
the audience, for his leadership in fighting AIDS, and also commended
the Bush Administration for support of increased development aid
and AIDS funding. At the same time, he drew applause in urging more
funding and defining that commitment as a "true measure of this
"Imagine the impact of a U.S. president who pursued the fight against
global poverty with the same vigor that President Bush has led the
campaign against Iraq," he said.
Bell concluded by returning to a description he had given of a
farmer he met in Sri Lanka who had saved bricks for six years to
build a one-room house for his family and was proud to tell Bell
that he expected to finish in another year. Bell likened the farmer's
project to what might seem like the overwhelmingly large job of
"It begins by our taking that first step, acquiring that first
brick -- and the next -- until a stable foundation is laid," he
said. "With ingenuity and commitment, we can and we will build a
world where extreme poverty has been overcome Ð where everyone sleeps
in safety and awakens with hope."
"Where does the end of poverty begin?" he concluded. "It begins
with each of us. It begins here. And it begins now."