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A World with Extreme Poverty is a World of Insecurity.

Friday, October 19, 2007

World Poverty Day is our Day

Opinion /Ma. Ceres Doyo / Human Face / Philippine Daily Inquirer

First posted 02:18:58 (Mla time) October 18, 2007 / Ma. Ceres P. Doyo / Philippine Daily Inquirer

MANILA, Philippines--We who are not on the extreme side of the economic divide, we who are fortunate to have a little more than the have-nots, but who have so much less than those who talk six to eight zeros in boardrooms and on golf courses, have no reason to feel that there is nothing important or impactful for us to do.

We are many, in fact, we are the majority, and we have the power. And I do not mean only on election day. If only we could bring forth that power. If only we knew how.

Yesterday was the United Nation’s official World Poverty Day. It was not a day to be celebrated, but rather to be observed. It was a day to remind the world that a third of the human citizens of this planet -- the “have-nots” -- could be dying because of hunger, disease and disasters at this very moment because of the neglect, greed and ignorance of the few “haves” who have too much in their hands and those who have the power, might and numbers to change the order of things but don’t.

For the two billion people who live on less than $2 (or about P90) a day, every day is poverty day. Half of them live on less than $1 a day. The UN’s official day -- they’ve never heard of it, and for them it doesn’t matter when it is.

Seven years ago, in 2000, 189 nations committed themselves to cut that grim figure in half. Four years later in 2004, the figures still looked grim, swinging from hope to despair to hope.

More than 100 million children were still out of school. Each year, about 10 million children die before their fifth birthday. Some 40 million people are living with HIV and AIDS of which five million die each year.

UN figures remain grim. Every day, about 25,000 people die of hunger or hunger-related causes. This means one human being every three and a half seconds, with children being the most likely to perish.

Is there not enough food to go around? Oh, but there is enough food to feed the teeming millions. The problem is that there are millions who are trapped or held hostage by poverty and can’t get to where the food is because they have no money, they have no work, they can’t go anywhere. And when they are further weakened, they become even poorer, sicker and less likely to find work and get to where the food is. They can’t even grow the food they must eat.

Without intervention from outside, they are trapped in a spiral that goes further down. This spiral has to be broken. Doing this is not easy, it is not going to be broken by simply pumping aid money or building infrastructure. Development aid without regard for the human factor will eventually fizzle out.

There are many ways of dealing with the poverty spiral or breaking it softly, so to speak. Development workers would often speak about “food for work” programs that would enable jobless adults to get up slowly and build for themselves the infrastructure that would help them get out of the mire. And for children, there is the “food for education” where children are fed while they are in school.

Of what use are a school and a good curriculum (and broadband networks) if the students have addled brains because they are malnourished? They wouldn’t be able to get to the school house because they suffer from vitamin and mineral deficiency, their lips and gums are sore, their bodies are ravaged by infection, etc., etc.

One small step at a time. A global problem could find some local solutions that would mean the difference from here to there. And the poor themselves, if they are not yet so crippled by disease and hunger, could do a lot for themselves, with a little help, of course.

The theme for the 20th International Day for the Eradication of Poverty (that’s the official name) is “People Living in Poverty as Agents of Change.” This suggests recognition of the poor people’s role in their own emancipation.

There are as many stories on this as there are many poor families. I have seen stories unfold around me. I have seen failures and successes. I have seen crossovers from despair to hope.

It is difficult for a journalist to remain on the fringes. I have always needed to savor what it is like, to be there, to sometimes put in something where my mouth is. But one must forget that something will ever come back. Oh, but something does, but not in the way we might expect.

And then, one must remember that local efforts are not everything. On the occasion of World Poverty Day, Jubilee South (a global network of social movements, including those from the Philippines) has issued a reminder that one of the biggest challenges for the global debt movement today is to correct the perception that the debt problem has largely been solved by the debt relief programs offered by lenders in recent years.

“The majority of the peoples of the South continue to suffer from the injustice and staggering burden of debt. It is a burden not only because of the huge amounts of debt payments in the face of poverty and deprivation. It is unjust not only because our people did not benefit from much of the debts they are forced to pay. The debt is also used as an instrument to ensure that our economies generate profits for global corporations and meet the requirements of global markets instead of providing for our needs.

“We continue to struggle for freedom from debt. We struggle not only to wipe out the outstanding debt claim from our countries but to transform the structures, the institutions, and the relations of power that has led to the accumulation of unjust and illegitimate debt.”

Poverty has a human face, a name, a voice that we know very well. We need not journey far. We who are un-poor and un-wealthy can do a lot.