‘A hungry man is an angry man’

Last week, United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres strongly criticized the “grotesque greed” of oil and gas companies for making record profits from the energy crisis on the back of the world’s poorest people. The UN chief called their record profits from oil and gas amid global crisis “immoral.”

“The combined profits of the largest energy companies in the first quarter of this year are close to $100 billion. I urge governments to tax these excessive profits, and use the funds to support the most vulnerable people through these difficult times,” Guterres said.

The UN chief said there is increasing fear that the rising costs of energy may price out many developing countries, especially the most vulnerable communities, from energy markets. These countries are already bearing the brunt of the cost-of-living crisis, having experienced major setbacks on access to energy and progress on sustainable development since the Covid-19 pandemic.

More worryingly, there could be a potential “scramble for fuel” whereby only countries paying the highest prices can access energy, he warned, adding that governments need the fiscal space to support their most vulnerable populations to avoid worsening levels of energy poverty or losing energy access altogether. At the same time, without policies that balance the need for urgency and sustainability, there is a risk of short-term energy policies that might set developing countries on a course for a high-emission and expensive energy future. “As the world charts its way forward, its plans must safeguard its commitments to the Paris Agreement on Climate Change. Developing countries don’t lack reasons to invest in renewables. Many of them are living with the severe impacts of the climate crisis including storms, wildfires, floods and droughts. What they lack are concrete, workable options,” Guterres added.

Guterres urged people everywhere to send a message to the fossil fuel industry and their financiers that “this grotesque greed is punishing the poorest and most vulnerable people, while destroying our only common home, the planet.”

From the Associated Press: “The head of the UN body promoting development is warning that the Covid-19 pandemic, climate change and the war in Ukraine have led to “an unprecedented reversal” of decades of progress in combatting global poverty and hunger and ensuring quality education for children everywhere.”

“Collen Kelapile, who is president of the Economic and Social Council known as ECOSOC, said there is growing concern that funding for critical UN development goals including ending extreme poverty and hunger by 2030 might be neglected by Western donor nations supporting Ukraine militarily and financially in its war against Russia.”

“Please, let’s not forget other pre-existing challenges. We need to finance development. We need to finance climate. We need to finance many other conflicts around the world,” Kelapile said in an interview with The Associated Press.

Making a mistake and sidelining these issues, Kelapile warned, could lead to higher costs in the future if they escalate “because there is no longer attention to them.” There is a saying that “a hungry man is an angry man,” he said, citing people recently venting their anger of the lack of food and gasoline, including in Sri Lanka.

The UN announcement that the world is currently seeing an unprecedented reversal of decades of progress in combatting global poverty should serve as a reminder for governments to focus on their anti-poverty programs.

It would do well for the Marcos administration to confront poverty head-on. Filipinos who suffer poverty’s effects are not the only victims. Poverty affects us all. Studies show that poverty is the root cause of many crimes in the world such as theft, murder, and the selling of drugs and contraband items. A US study noted that a one percent rise in poverty would amount to a 2.16 percent rise in crime and a 2.57 percent rise in violent crime.

Poverty is an issue that undermines our security as a nation. We all pay a heavy price for allowing poverty to walk in our midst. As the regime of high inflation affects most Filipinos, it’s not far-fetched that households that have recently escaped poverty could be pushed back into it by skyrocketing prices.

Government alone won’t succeed in its poverty reduction efforts without the support of big business. Shared prosperity also means moderating corporate greed for profit by increasing wages. As a wise man once said, lifting someone out of poverty is the most effective antidepressant in the world.