Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Poverty -Blog Action Day

A home in a Machiguenga Village in Peru. Notice how dirty the young boy is. His younger sister, not pictured, was extremely malnourished. I have some other photos of the village here. Another nearby village, Diamante, was a striking contrast with very healthy and happy kids. Copyright (c) 2007 Wendee Holtcamp

I learned from a friend's blog that today is Blog Action Day, with the topic of Poverty, a subject close to my heart. I always said that if I were to run for President, that would be my platform - eliminate world poverty. It's just too important an issue to ignore, and one in which we clearly have the economic resources, just apparently not the will, to fix.

I grew up partly with my dad in some pretty rustic conditions. At times, he used food stamps, and was also at one time on welfare. Yet he pulled himself out of the quagmire and quickly got back on his feet. To some extent, he chose voluntary poverty, as a hippie, as someone who wanted to live off the land. Yet some circumstances got the better of him and he ended up in more dire straits than he intended. But he eventually rose above with the help from these government programs (programs that some people would choose to eliminate under their political choices - even as we spend trillions on military spending and unjust wars!)

The times I spent in this "poverty" were the happiest of my childhood memories. Poverty does not in itself make people sad or impoverished in spirit. On the contrary, I believe it builds spirit and character. But the poverty I experienced was not extreme (though some people in the suburbia I live in now would certainly think it was!). Yet conditions in third world countries, several of which I have visited, include horrendous conditions -- lack of access to clean drinking water and hence higher risk of disease, lack of access to modern medicines or medical care. In the Peruvian village above they have no toilets - they just use the bathroom in the forest or in the river. The same river they drink from. I've seen young children begging on the streets in Nepal. I've seen orphans whose parents were killed in wars. There are too many sad stories to tell. But it's "out of sight and out of mind" to most people.

Not to me. I wish there was more I could do. I have blogged many times about poverty and the desire to do something (one important and Nobel Prize-winning concept is microlending, which I've blogged about before).

When I was at the Society of Environmental Journalists Conference in Burlington, Vermont in 2006 I heard Ben Cohen of Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream give his keynote speech, which impressed me (as a matter of fact, the SEJ 2008 Conference is going on right now, and though I'm not attending this year, I'm there in spirit!). Ben talked about the priorities our country has by stacking big plastic Oreo cookies up to represent "billions of dollars spent."

Guess where most of the Oreos went? Not education, not poverty elimination, not healthcare. But.... War. Military spending got about 10 times the number of cookies. He showed that if we just took a couple of cookies away - money that is being spent on just caching outdated nuclear weapons that will never be used, we could literally have enough funds to eliminate world poverty. He says:

On Ben & Jerry's American Priority Pie page, they shows some of the stats. We are...

  • 1st in nuclear defense capability
  • 1st in nuclear defense expenditures ($30 billion/yr)

  • 14th in efforts to lift children out of poverty
  • 18th in % of children in poverty
  • and last (yes last!) in providing healthcare for all children.

"Meanwhile, according to the experts, as much as $13 billion could be cut from U.S. nuclear spending each year without compromising our national security or our standing as the world's strongest nuclear power."
- Ben Cohen, Ben & Jerry's Founder

  • Just $1 billion a year would be enough to fully immunize every two-year old who has not already been vaccinated against preventable childhood disease.
  • $2 billion annually could provide health insurance for 1 million of America's 9 million uninsured children.
  • $5 billion a year would allow us to cover Head Start for every eligible child not currently enrolled in the program.

Check out a video on Ben discussing the issues of government priorities and spending and how a little rearranging could help solve poverty. He uses BBs to show a pretty amazing concept... National Priorities Project page, and True Majority, too.

As a matter of fact, today also happens to be Global Handwashing Day. Who knew that when children wash their hands - particularly in third world countries where water is often infested and "bathroom" conditions kind of nasty, to say the least, washing hands can actually help save lives.

Poor hygiene and lack of access to sanitation together contribute to about 88% of deaths from diarrhoeal diseases, accounting for 1.5 million diarrhoea-related under-five deaths each year. Children suffer disproportionately from diarrheal and respiratory diseases and deaths. But research shows that children – the segment of society so often the most energetic, enthusiastic, and open to new ideas – can also be powerful agents of behavioral change.

Cross-posted at Daily Kos

1 comment:

Carrie Wilson Link said...

Thank you for spreading awareness!