In 2005, the World Bank gave a monetary definition of poverty as living on less than 1.25; the equivalent to 97 ½ pence a day and a little more than a packet of pasta or tinned soup at Tesco. But can poverty be simply defined by a lack of money?
Letters shoved into mailboxes containing pictures of African children with big, pleading eyes, advertisements blaring soulful music accompanied with “Give 3 dollars a day to save a child’s life,” and collection buckets rattling under your noses – we’ve all seen it: attempts to strike that chord of compassion in all of us in the hopes that we would give something. It seems easy to push aside that voice of conscience telling us to act because these issues are too far away, on the other side of the world. We justify this inaction by assuming that there is nothing we can do, that poverty is a natural product of a world based upon capitalism. So we cast our eyes over these issues and tune out that voice in our head.
Sometimes we need to be reminded that we are capable of change, capable of rising above this apathetic state. Simon Moss did just that in his “1.4 Billion Reasons: The Global Poverty Project” presentation. It was hosted in collaboration with Durham University’s Development Abroad Society (DUDAS), ActionAid, UNICEF and Amnesty International. He said that poverty is measured in more ways than money and food. It is the deprivation of access to medical services, to clean water, to food, to education – to basic human rights. No access to clean water leads to the susceptibility of diseases such as malaria or tuberculosis. Poverty is also a lack of choice; having to choose and make difficult decisions with very limited options. Mr. Moss gives us an example, if someone in the family is sick, they are forced to make a decision: “Should I skip eating to take them to the doctor or wait for them to get better?” Even then, in places like Ghana, Uganda and Zimbabwe, there is no NHS within a walking distance. Confronted with situations like this, facing the possibility of death every day, such small issues become big problems. Choice becomes so much more than picking which sandwich flavour to choose for lunch or where to go for your next holiday.
Diseases like malaria, HIV or AIDS and tuberculosis are crucial factors in and consequences of extreme poverty. Every year, 3 million children die of malaria. Malaria is also an enormous setback to workers who need to take time off work for a couple of weeks, losing 5–10% of their already scarce income. If malaria hits during harvesting system, their crops and yield are affected too. But these deaths are not necessary. With the provision of vaccines and bednets, deaths can be reduced. Through education, enough resources and correct implementation, the deaths arising from infectious diseases can decrease. This is one fundamental step to eradicating poverty.
Interestingly, gender inequality also played a role in poverty. Roughly half of the world’s population comprises of women, yet statistics for the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) report that 3 in 5 people who live in poverty are women. Women labour two thirds of the world’s working hours but only take home 10% of the world’s income and 1% of the world’s property assets. This is neither fair nor right. To make a difference, we need to empower everybody and get everyone involved. Empowering women to work can raise economic productivity, reduce infant and maternal mortality, improve nutrition and promote health and increase chances of education for the next generation.
So what is preventing us from trying to end poverty? How come countries like South Korea have advanced so much in the last 50 years whereas countries like Uganda remain stagnant and left behind? Corruption and bad aid are some of the major reasons. There is often no way of knowing where money goes to, especially with large sums like 30 billion dollars given to Africa each year. The intention is good, but people do not know what to do with the aid and sometimes it is simply not practical. Aid must therefore come in long-term investments including transmitting skills to efficiently and effectively grow more food, understanding what food is most suitable to a land’s climate, and better education so that these children can grow up to lift themselves and others out of poverty.
The world is increasingly aware of these issues and is working towards reducing poverty one step at a time. In 2000, 189 world leaders came together to devise eight targets to be reached by 2015 called the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). If these goals are reached, poverty will reduce by half, millions of lives will be saved and billions will have greater opportunities to benefit from the global economy. The eight goals consist of:
- Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger
- Achieve universal primary education
- Promote gender equality and empower women
- Reduce child mortality
- Improve maternal health
- Combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases
- Ensure environmental sustainability
- Develop a global partnership for development
These are global and noble goals. But what can we do as individuals? We can take small steps through learning, talking, volunteering, donating and consciously buying goods which are ethical. Being aware is the first conscious step to empowering young individuals like ourselves to realise that there is a bigger world outside of our Durham bubble, that we can and should act upon that inner voice of ours and perhaps one day, even become part of the worldwide movement to end extreme poverty.