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United Arab Emirates

By Jimmy Carter

After being awarded the Zayed International Prize for the Environment, I decided to go to Dubai to accept the $500,000 award for The Carter Center. Rosalynn and John Hardman joined me, so we could use the visit to seek additional financial support from leaders there and in Abu Dhabi. In the past, Sheikh Zayed has contributed to the eradication of Guinea worm.

In my acceptance speech (appended) and in numerous forums with political and business leaders, we had opportunities to define the environment so as to encompass all as-pects of our Center's work. Because of their obvious special interest in Sudan, we emphasized the need for assistance with peace efforts and health projects in this troubled nation.

We were amazed at what is happening in Dubai. With an almost completely open and free society, it has become an extraordinary trading and recreation center, now receiving only 7 percent of its national earnings from oil revenues. Its free port is probably the foremost in the world, and there are explosive developments in every realm of commerce and tourism.

It was a long trip of about 18 hours each way, but we enjoyed the wonderful hospitality and feel that we promoted our work to a wide range of individuals.

POVERTY, WEALTH, AND THE ENVIRONMENT Speech delivered by Jimmy Carter Dubai, United Arab Emirates April 22, 2001
I am honored to receive the Zayed International Prize for the Environment, and I accept it with pleasure. This award has special significance for me because it is named for my personal friend, Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan. He has set a notable example as a protector and advocate of the environment--for his people and his neighbors, and for the world. He has provided a great legacy by planting 100 million trees, acting to preserve biological diversity and endangered species, and promoting agricultural development.

I am grateful to Sheikh Mohamed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Crown Prince of Dubai, the patron and creator of this prize. I am confident that it will serve not only to honor past achievements but also to promote and support future commitments to protect the environment and enhance the well-being of humanity.

This is a glorious occasion, and it would be pleasant just to accept congratulations and to give them. But now I ask your indulgence to discuss briefly some challenges to the world's environment and to outline the reasons we must continue to address them together.

There are two major definitions of the word "environment" that we should consider. The one most commonly used is "conditions of the air, water, minerals, and organisms that surround and affect a growing thing." But the definition that I wish to discuss on this occasion is much more meaningful, and perhaps more thought-provoking: Environment means "the social and cultural forces that shape the life of a person or population" or, stated somewhat differently, "conditions within which the human soul can flourish."

When I was President of the United States, we harnessed the full capability of our nation to analyze existing threats to the human condition, and to take a look at the likely future of the world. I directed the major departments of government to work under the leadership of Gus Speth, who now serves with distinction as a partner on the Zayed Prize Committee with other leaders assembled here.

Our final report, in 1980, was named Global 2000, and it has had a profound influence on those who share our commitment to a better life for all people.

I knew many things about the world when I was President and was responsible for the influence of my country, the largest and most powerful of all. Yet I have learned a lot more since I left the White House. My wife Rosalynn and I have helped to lead the work of The Carter Center, and in doing so have visited 120 nations, concentrating on those that are poorest and most in need.

We have learned that the major human aspirations are inseparable: justice, peace, freedom, human rights, and the alleviation of suffering. These are tied together in the life of a nation or the existence of an individual man, woman, or child. And they form the environment--"the conditions within which the human soul can flourish."

In war, every aspect of the environment is ignored or violated. Forests are slashed, fields are abandoned to erosion, streams are polluted, shelter is destroyed, human rights are ignored, and intense suffering is imposed upon the weak and helpless.

The prevalence of war is surprising, even to those who monitor world conditions. Each day at The Carter Center, we assess every conflict on earth. On our total list now there are about 110, with about 70 of them erupting into violence every year. Thirty of these are major wars--those in which at least 1,000 soldiers have died on the battlefield. Since almost all are civil wars, without the constraint of international standards, for each person killed in the armed forces an average of nine civilians perish--from stray bullets, bombs, land mines, and missiles or from the deliberate deprivation of food and shelter.

Africa has more than its natural share of conflict and suffering, but the least attention from rich nations is given to this region. Much more attention and effort is focused on the Middle East than on the entire continent of Africa, where the extent of suffering is enormous. Sudan has been mired in civil war for 18 years, with 2 million people dead, and one can cross the continent from there to the Southwest coast without putting a foot on peaceful ground.

We also know that a lack of freedom destroys the environment, with its inevitable consequence of human rights abuse. A person living in bondage or slavery is often subject to unwarranted arrest, torture, and even summary execution for political dissent. An oppressor has little or no concern for the surroundings of an "inferior" person or a despised population.

Arbitrary laws, unjust constraints, confiscation or destruction of property, and obstruction of humane assistance all sap the ability or willingness of abused persons to live in peace, with themselves or those who dominate them. Hopelessness can lead to violence, when lost pride and self-respect exceed the value of one's own life. Civil conflict results, with its consequent environmental destruction.

What is the greatest single challenge facing the world today? It is the growing chasm between rich and poor people on earth. Who are the rich people? Obviously everyone here at this ceremony is rich, and I would add almost everyone we know well. Then what is a rich person? I think a rich person is someone who has a decent home and a modicum of education, a chance for a job, access to reasonable health care, and the ability to walk outside one's own home without fear. We have the feeling that the judicial system and the police are on our side and a sense that our decisions make a difference, at least in our own lives. That is a rich person.

But there are many people on earth who have none of these things. The chasm between them and us is so deep and so vast that it seems impossible to cross. There is little doubt that the rich discriminate against the poor, at least by ignoring their plight. In most cases, this discrimination is not deliberate, but inadvertent. Unfortunately, among those of us who own and control things, there is a growing incomprehension or callousness towards the people in the so-called developing world, much of which is not developing at all.

Wide gaps exist between rich and poor within wealthy countries such as the United States or the United Arab Emirates, but these are narrow compared to those between nations. Poverty is increasing among those who are already poor, while wealth is accumulating more and more in the hands of those who already are rich. At the beginning of the 20th century, the 10 richest countries were nine times as wealthy as the 10 poorest countries. In 1960, the ratio had increased to 30 to 1. Now the ratio is more than 70 to 1.

The average American family currently has an annual income of about $39,000, while 20 percent of the world's population, about 1.2 billion people, have an income of less than one dollar per day. This is all they have for food, shelter, and clothing--and they are often without education or medical care.

It is important to remember that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights says that everyone has a right to "a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and his family." This disparity between what we profess and what exists is a blight on global society that is very hard to quantify or even to comprehend. The solution is not to punish the wealthy, of course, but to find ways to share with those in need in such a way that they learn how to improve their own lives.

In a small way, we at The Carter Center have tried to address the challenge, and we decided long ago to concentrate on the poorest countries of all. We now have projects in 65 of them, 35 of which are in Africa.

In our health program, we deal with five major diseases, none of which still afflict the industrialized world. They are trachoma, schistosomiasis, lymphatic filariasis, onchosochiasis (river blindness), and dracunculiasis (Guinea worm). Let me mention just one of them, in which Sheik Zayed has been an invaluable partner.

Guinea worm is a disease of people who have no running water. They drink out of stagnant ponds that harbor the eggs that produce the worms. In 1986, 3.5 million people suffered from Guinea worm, a horrendous disease that is painful to describe. We have now cut the sufferers down by 98 percent, to 70,000, two-thirds of whom are in southern Sudan. Because of the continuing civil war, we cannot get to many villages in that region. The main credit for this progress must go to the people in almost 22,000 villages who have corrected their own problem.

Agriculture is another subject that warrants our attention. In the poorest nations, subsistence farming is a crucial element in the quality of life. Unfortunately, millions of African farmers, both men and women, labor throughout their lifetimes in relatively fruitless efforts. They practice slash and burn cultivation, exposing a new field each year to the rain and wind that remove the top-soil. Their traditional seeds and lack of crop nutrients severely limit yields.

We now have about 600,000 farmers in 12 African nations who are learning how to plant in contour rows, use the finest known seeds, and maintain soil fertility. Although they still plant their average of one hectare with a pointed stick and cultivate with a hoe, their yields are habitually doubled or tripled the first year. This is made possible by funding from the Nippon Foundation in Japan and the counsel of Nobel Laureate Norman Borlaug, but primarily by the dedication and hard work of the small farmers themselves.

Development programs need to evolve from top leaders to the grassroots level in order to be effective. We work out an agreement not just with the Minister of Agriculture, but also with the President, Prime Minister, and the ministers of finance, transportation, education, and health. We furnish only one foreign advisor, train hundreds of native extension workers, tens of thousands of farm families, and leave these capable people behind after five years--now self-sufficient to continue on their own.

I have already mentioned the Nippon Foundation and its commitment to agriculture in Africa, and other great foundations are now concentrating their attention on health care. The most notable is the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, whose annual health budget is equivalent to that of the World Health Organization. With a clear view of how their contributions will be used wisely and efficiently, commercial corporations are very generous. We are especially grateful to Merck, DuPont, GlaxoSmithKline, and Pfizer for contributing medicines and supplies to people suffering from the diseases I have already mentioned.

There is a fierce debate on the subject of technology, but my belief is that modern science can give us better lives and also enhance the quality of the environment. One example is the introduction of Quality Protein Maize, whose improved seeds were developed in a research center in Mexico. All other maize has always lacked two vital amino acids, requiring supplemental protein for healthy humans or animals.

This new maize is a complete food, almost equivalent to mother's milk, which is now transforming nutrition in many countries. Other improved seeds greatly increase production, reduce the need for destructive pesticides, and can compete favorably with competitive weeds. With proper testing and labeling, these technological improvements can be a boon to better lives in the future.

There is no doubt that most of the world's environmental problems have been caused by the industrialized nations. Global warming is just one important example. After 10 years of intensive study and negotiations, a reasonable commitment evolved in Kyoto to address this problem. My own country now seems to be reversing its previous agreement to join in this effort. My hope is that a revised understanding can be forged that will include all countries, some of which were not involved in the previously adopted restraints.

Another political issue that involves millions of suffering people is economic sanctions, such as those imposed on Iraq and Cuba. I realize that it is sometimes advisable to impose such on an abusive dictator, as an alternative to armed conflict. But all too often, this attempt is deflected from the despot onto those who are already suffering under his oppression. The result is that the oppressor can blame outside forces for his own mistakes and abuse and falsely cast himself as a victim and even a hero.

I am glad to hear words from Washington that indicate that economic sanctions will be diverted as much as possible away from helpless victims. It would not be appropriate for me to avoid mentioning one special concern, which I have expressed many times during the past 20 years. That is the threat to the unique and pristine character of the Alaska National Wildlife Reserve for the temporary benefit of extracting a relatively small quantity of oil. My hope is that the U.S. Congress will see the wisdom of protecting this special treasure.

In closing, let me emphasize one key point: We should never underestimate the wisdom, ambition, industry, and sound judgment of the most remote and deprived people in Africa and in other places. We at The Carter Center have seen brilliant results when we have gone directly to a village and given the inhabitants an explanation of their problems in health or agriculture and what might be done about them. I have rarely been disappointed in their dedication and their ability to change for the better.

These are people struggling to improve their own quality of life. We must give them confidence, in us and in their own abilities, so that hope can replace despair. My dream for the future is that they can improve their own environment---"the conditions within which the human soul can flourish."

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