Extreme poverty is an issue which, to some, appears to be immensely complicated. The philanthropic world examines a plethora of issues relating to poverty in hopes of discovering solutions to meet the needs of people dying daily from causes that we have the full capabilities and resources to eliminate. Many campaign for a wide-ranging approach to attack the problems of poverty with private investment, responsible political leadership, and large-scale aid to alleviate current suffering.
However, as I read through the vast number of articles
published by non-profit organizations, watch interviews
with world leaders, and hearpromising statistics
on how poverty is being eradicated, I cannot help but see a grossly overlooked
topic which although spoken about, never seems to truly be addressed: Inequality.
Extreme poverty, in my view, is an incredibly simple issue with a simple explanation. Money is a fixed tool of measurement. This means that there are only so many dollars, pounds, etc. that exist. For example, let us say that there are $7,000,000,000 in total existence – roughly the number of people on earth. Now let us suppose that of those 7 billion dollars, 39% our owned by the top 1%
of people. When such a large portion of the pie is being eaten by such a few number of people, it’s simple to see why poverty is so rampant around planet earth.
How We Define “Poverty”
When searching for the root cause of poverty in our world, I believe it is of utmost importance to define exactly what we mean by poverty. Many organizations define poverty strictly in monetary terms. We hear statistics such as “half of the world lives on less than $2 per day
” but does that statistic truly reflect the conditions of life for half of the world’s population? For example, a farmer may live on less than $2 per day, while providing the essentials of water and food from working their land. If an outside entity were to view this farmer based solely on his income, he may be viewed as impoverished and encouraged to move into the city where he might earn a higher wage through some sort of factory work.
I think that an accurate definition of poverty would have to be linked also to how we define “quality of life.” For the purposes of this article, I will discuss “quality of life” in terms of the physical needs we human beings have. Certainly, there are many other spiritual and social factors which come into play when discussing the quality of one’s life, but perhaps that will be for a future article.
What do we think it means to truly live a quality life? In my view there are few and simple true needs that we as human beings have to live healthy: clean water, healthy food, safe shelter, education and communication (relationships). A community which lacks access to these vital needs experiences needless suffering, as we have all of the resources and technical capabilities to provide them for all of humanity. There are some who believe the earth simply does not have the resources to support the number of people on earth and that poverty is a natural result of an overpopulated planet. But I believe this to be a highly short-sighted viewpoint.
The world is not overpopulated, as though our planet has a capacity limit, but the resources we have available are incredibly mismanaged by we humans. Admitting this is perhaps a first step in understanding the root cause of poverty. The planet is not at fault for poverty, just as the people themselves are not responsible for poverty; rather, the systems in which we the people place our beliefs are not working and have not worked throughout our history to achieve a quality life for each person.
What can give people access to the vital needs of life?
Clean water is the most fundamental element of life. It is also the prime force for agricultural growth and health. We have the technology and resources to easily provide clean water for the world. There is one reason always given for why we do not make clean water for all a reality – cost.Nearly half of the world’s population lives within 200 km of a coastline.Desalination
is a simple but costly
process which converts seawater into drinkable water through reverse osmosis. If we can overcome the monetary restriction within our minds, we can finally harness the most vast source of water our planet – the oceans.
The question we must ask ourselves in regards to providing a quality life for each one of us is “what is our concern?” If our primary concern is money and cost, poverty will continually be perpetuated around the world. But if we determine to concern our selves not by what it may cost in terms of a digital bank account number; rather, by what it may cost in human lives if we do not implement the technology and resources we have to create a better world for each one of us.