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"When I give food to the poor, they call me a saint. When I ask why the poor have no food, they call me a communist." -- Dom Helda Camara

Poverty Affects Most of Humanity    

  • Half the world -- nearly three billion people -- live on less than two dollars a day...
  • The GDP (Gross Domestic Product) of the poorest 48 nations (i.e. a quarter of the world's countries) is less than the wealth of the world's three richest people combined... (See previous link)
  • Nearly a billion people will enter the 21st century unable to read a book or sign their names...
  • Less than one per cent of what the world spends every year on weapons would be needed to put every child into school by the year 2000 -- see this report.
  • 51 percent of the world's 100 hundred wealthiest bodies are owned by corporations.
  • The wealthiest nation on Earth has the widest gap between rich and poor of any industrialised nation...
  • According to the 1998 Human Developement Report, 20% of the population in the developed nations, consume 86% of the worlds goods...
  • It would cost only $13 billion to meet all the world's sanitation and food requirements, which is hardly as much as what people in the United States and the European Union spend each year on perfume...
  • "It would cost six billion dollars a year, on top of what is already spent, to put every child in school by the year 2000? That is an enormous sum. Yet it is less than one per cent of what the world spends every year on weapons" -- see this New International article

What does it mean to be poor? What does it mean to describe a nation as "developing"? A lack of material wealth does not necessarily mean that one is deprived. A strong economy in a developed nation doesn't mean much when a significant percentage (even a majority) of the population is struggling to survive. Development usually implies an improvement in living standards such that a person has enough food, water, clothing, stable social environment, freedom, basic rights etc, to have a fair chance for a decent life. However, when political agendas deprive these possibilities in some nations, how can a nation develop?

The rest of this page is split into the following sections:

Structural Adjustment -- Earn More, Eat Less

Many developing nations are in debt partly due to the unhelpful and sometimes, unaccountable, money lending programmes by institutions such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank (which are largely controlled and "owned" by the developed nations such as USA, UK, Japan etc). They encourage the aggressive opening up of countries for trade, but is coupled with too much privatisation and too much deregulation with fewer safety nets able to be put in place by the governments.

The IMF's Structural Adjustment Policy ensures debt repayment in such a way that social spending -- such as health, education, communication, transportation etc. -- must be cut back. How does this help? It helps to ensure debt can be repayed but the cut-back of such provisions makes it much more difficult for a nation to prosper. This inevitably means that the poor suffer, while the rich get richer...

Every rich, developed nation today has become developed because in the past their governments took major responsibility to promote economic growth. There was a lot of protectionism and intervention in technology transfer. There was an attempt to provide some sort of equality, education, health, and other services to help enhance the nation. And as seen in the structural adjustment initiatives and other western-imposed policies, the developing nations are being forced to cut back these very same aspects that have helped the developed countries to prosper in the past...

For more information, you could start at GlobalIssues.org's section on Structural Adjustment Policy.

Food dumping (or aid) can increase poverty

Even certain types of food "aid", (when not for emergency relief) can be destructive. The dumping of the surplus production for free or nearly no cost to poorer nations means that the farmers from such countries cannot compete and are driven out of jobs, further slanting the "market share" of the larger producers such as the US and Europe. You should think twice before using clicking on the HungerSite.com or others that offer a one-click donation of free food. If it was a donation of tools and methods for the recipients to be able to develop their own economy rather than remain dependent on the industrialized countries, then that would be worth a number of clicks.

For additional information on this perspective, the following links may be of use:

The United States

The Progress of Nations, 1998 report from UNICEF is an excellent compilation of information and statistics that measures how developed a nation is with regards to the state of the children rather than the state of the economy. One of these statistics show the percentage of a developed nation's GNP that goes into aid -- which country came out as the most miserly? Yep, that's right - the richest. USA. Click here for the stats.

And even when the US did provide aid, a lot of this -- more than half in 1997 -- went into military aid and trade... (this last report has some very interesting statistics and is worth looking at.) As mentioned above, the nature of aid itself is also a subject of concern -- while aid needs to be increased, the aid should be for the benefit of the recipients, not the benefit of the donors.

And of all the industrialized nations in the world, the US had the highest (and growing) disparity between rich and poor. While the media sings praises about the booming economy, there is less about those who are missing out.

The inequality.org web site provides more detailed statistics and information about inequality in the United States.

Other effects

As many people have shown, poverty can end up affecting the environment, human rights, health, availablity of food and water and can lead to internal conflicts, which only serve to worsen the situation, not improve it.

In short then, structural adjustment policies and other economic/trade agreements have become a mechanism for the wealthier nations to open up the poorer ones for more resource extraction and further dependencies. Former imperial nations (and newer ones like the United States) in this way have been able to continue age-old mercantilist practices (although it is now labeled neo-liberal). Visit the Institute for Economic Democracy for more on this aspect and the patterns seen throughout history.

More Information

To find out more, some places to start are:

  • Z Articles on Economics.
  • The Poverty section from the GlobalIssues.org web site.
  • The Institute for Economic Democracy has some excellent research and in-depth analysis into the histories that have led to the current disparities between the developing nations and the developed nations. This is a must check out site!
  • OneWorld Guides to:
  • The Jubilee 2000 campaign is trying to tackle and highlight the issue of debt. In some situations they are proposing a cancellation of debt owed by certain poor countries. They have a very informative web site and are making an impact as awareness is raised. An additional campaign site from them also provides lots of details, especially on various G7/G8 summits and other conferences that discuss the issue of debt. That site is called Drop the Debt.
  • The Bretton Woods Project, in their own words, "works to monitor and reform the World Bank and IMF. It tracks key policy statements and reports, and provides critiques and early warnings used by non-governmental organisations across the world."
  • Food First; The Institute for Food and Development Policy work to highlight "root causes and value-based solutions to hunger and poverty around the world, with a commitment to establishing food as a fundamental human right" as they mention in their own words. It is a very good site with many informative articles and resources.
  • The Third World Network is, in their own words, "an independent non-profit international network of organizations and individuals involved in issues relating to development, the Third World and North-South issues." They have great sections on trade, the WTO, economics, development, human rights and so on, from a developing nation perspective. They are worth checking out.
  • Oxfam International is an alliance of independent non-governmental organizations committed to fighting poverty and related injustice around the world. They have a lot of information and campaigns on their web sites. For example, check out Oxfam UK's list of papers, which have additional insights into issues surrounding poverty.
  • 50 Years Is Enough has an interesting set of factsheets about the IMF and World Bank.
  • The Guardian Newspaper's look at Debt
  • ID21 Research and Reporting Service from the UK has a lot of articles and research papers on the whole issue of development.
  • The November 1996 issue of New Internationalist Magazine is devoted to the Poverty of Aid.

    Did you know that "it would cost six billion dollars a year, on top of what is already spent, to put every child in school by the year 2000? That is an enormous sum. Yet it is less than one per cent of what the world spends every year on weapons", as this report on the State of the World mentions (see the January/February edition of New International Magazine for more on this).
  • The BBC's Special Report on the Burden of Debt is worth looking at. They have some interesting reports and case studies.
  • Comic Relief in the UK is a huge annual even that attempts to raise money and awareness on the issue of poverty. It involves many showbiz celebrities such as comedians, talk show hosts and pop stars all involved in a weekend event. They have raised millions and millions of pounds.
  • This impressive entry into the ThinkQuest 99 contest, called "The Beggar's Hand; the Plight of Poverty." It has some detailed information worth checking out.
  • This list of issues related to poverty.
  • United Nation Links:
  • Remember LiveAid? NetAid is a similar project and they aim for it to be the largest Internet collaboration of its kind. It has a decent set of information and a concert will culminate October 9, 1999. It doesn't seem to go in too much historical detail and root causes of poverty, but it serves a worthy purpose and does provide additional perspectives, some of which have not been looked into detail on the global issues poverty sections but are provided here.
  • Global Problems and the Culture of Capitalism by Richard H. Robbins of the State University of New York at Plattsburgh presents many readings and information that accompanies his excellent book of the above title.

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