“This IS a world in which assistance to the poorest woman and child on the planet is not only the right thing to do, but is integral to our survival as a species.”
In 1990, some 40,000 children died every day from preventable disease and malnutrition. Today, just 30,000 children die every day from preventable disease and malnutrition. That 25% reduction in world child death rates resulted from citizen activism lifting awareness to the importance and possibilities of programs ensuring a better life for every child born. The movement is growing.
Doctors and nutritionists know what to do. But only the political will of society results in allocating resources to make a difference.
What is known today is that ending the worst poverty and insuring safe water, sanitation, basic health, education, and microcredit loans for self-employment are not only compassionate missions in service to the most impoverished, they are central to political stability, environmental sustainability, and peace.
Child and maternal survival rates are two of the most important indicators of a society’s general health and economic potential. Where life-supporting services are in place, infant and maternal mortality rates are low. Where they are not in place, infant and maternal mortality rates are high.
The technology is simple. But the political will must be present in to put the programs in place. They are not expensive. In the American Hemisphere, the child and maternal survival rates of one of the poorest nations, like Cuba, rival those of the wealthiest countries: Canada and the USA.
Consider simple programs that work: Immunization of Children: A world commitment to child immunization against the five major childhood diseases has resulted in an increase in immunization rates from 50% of children in 1980 to close to 90% today. In some countries, virtually every child is immunized. Improved survival rates are dramatic.
Oral Rehydration Therapy: Dehydration from diahrreal diseases is still a major childhood killer around the world, although ORT — a tiny packet of electrolyte salts and a little sugar — mixed in water saves lives for just pennies.
Basic Education: Literacy helps the impoverished to take a share in the global economy, as producers and as customers. Literacy is crucial to raising a society’s standard of living and lowering the world’s birth rate. Literacy raises the quality of life by expanding horizons, opening doors for the poorest to improve their own lives.
Literacy Programs: Dollar for dollar, investments today in literacy programs — especially for girls — may offer the very best return in development that makes a difference, in a family’s climb out of poverty, in ending society’s poverty, in achieving world stability. Yet many of the most impoverished nations charge school fees, sometimes as little as $30 per year, which prevent millions from attending school. This wrongheaded school fees policy must be reversed.
Safe Water & Sanitation: Some half of humanity lacks a guarantee of safe drinking water, often solved with a simple well. Sanitation controlling diseases can be as simple as slit trenches. It is tragic that extreme poverty and ignorance of simple techniques results in such suffering.
Microcredit Lending: A silent revolution in self-help is taking place among the world’s poor, flowing from the example of the Grameen Bank in Bangladesh and the practice it developed called “micro-enterprise lending for self-employment” or microcredit lending. Averaging $100, these micro-loans make possible the purchase of a loom, a wagon, an ox, a pig, tools, or other resources that may triple or quadruple a family’s income. Today, the Grameen Bank lends out some $50 million a month in loans averaging $100, with a pay-back rate of some 96%. Most of the loans are to women – those most in need. The movement is expanding world-wide. Citizen action in the US has resulted in US foreign aid investing in micro-enterprise loan efforts on all continents. A million dollars granted to FINCA microlending banks in Nicaragua in the 1990s is now sustainable and growing through repayments of the loans with interest.
Hunger, Famine, and Food: Renowned expert on hunger Frances Moore-Lappe, author of Diet for a Small Planet and World Hunger: 12 Myths, contends that virtually every nation on earth could be food-self-sufficient if that were a political priority. Even nations where famine is present often export food from private plantations. The hungry do not have money to buy. The solution to hunger is NOT to send food, but to create conditions in which all people and societies can grow food or trade for it. There is always food for people with money; people with money do not go hungry. Land reform and human rights protections would contribute greatly to people solving their own hunger problems. Nations at peace generally produce more food than human beings needed. Europe and North America, for example, feed some 80% of all corn, grains, and soy beans harvested to animals.
Environmental Impact and Sustainable Development: As a wealthy, industrialized nation, the U.S. could be a world leader in technologies permitting economic development without environmental degradation. Such technologies would reduce our nation’s environmental impact, and we could export them to a world desperate for technologies harmonizing development with sustainability.
The environmental impact of your lifestyle can be calculated easily using 12 questions on websites titled “ecological footprint” and “redefining progress.” The environmental impact (or “ecological footprint”) of lifestyles in wealthy nations vary dramatically from those in poor nations. Our environmental impact in wealthy nations must be lessened through personal habits and consumer choices reducing pollution and increasing efficiencies, as well as by policies rewarding such practises throughout society. Badly needed are more discussions about sufficiency, interdependence, and balance in a complex world. ‘Wealthy nations’ can hardly demand sustainable development from the poor which wealthy nations will not achieve themselves.
Population Growth: World population — currently at 6 billion — is growing at a rate of one billion people every ten to 12 years. But the growth rate is now slowing. Spacing children relieves economic stress on families and biological stress on mothers, making possible a life-saving portioning of resources for each child. Two crucial factors in lowering the birth rate in developing countries are eliminating infant and child death and establishing universal literacy, particularly for women. Reducing child death rates and increasing poor families’ economic hopes results in lower birth rates, even in the absence of family planning programs. Family-planning assistance contributes dramatically to improving the health of women and children in developing countries.
NGOs: Another hope for eliminating the worst poverty lies in private, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) supporting sustainable development using local technologies and creativity. Such development is nourished in 19 foreign countries by World Neighbors in Oklahoma City with an annual budget of only $4 million. Outstanding NGOs like World Neighbors deserve private support and funding. World Bank and IMF: Founded after World War II to provide loans to impoverished countries for development to eliminate poverty, the WB & IMF, intended to be part of the solution, have become part of the problem.
After 50 years of lending — often to unscrupulous leaders who stole much of the money — most poor nations find themselves paying annual debt service on their loans, but never escaping debt. Then too, the Cold War dividing ‘The West’ from communist countries rendered much lending by the WB & IMF political in nature …. money was lent, without strings, to leaders or countries professing alliance with The West, though much of the loans went to military spending to control their own poor populations. A world movement calling for Debt Relief to impoverished countries has been growing for a decade. The “Jubilee” movement in 2000 sprang from the scriptural admonition that, after 50 years, all debts should be forgiven. Many poor nations, including Nicaragua, pay fully half of their national budget to debt service to the WB & IMF. Crippling debts which are decades old must be forgiven.
Global Trade and Trade Treaties: The impetus for all global trade treaties — NAFTA, GATT, WTO (World Trade Organization) — came from corporations seeking to expand profit-making. Therefore, the treaties contain no protections for workers, societies, language, culture or environment.
The treaties make it most advantageous for assembly factories to relocate to countries where labor unions are illegal, and where any toxic by-products need not be disposed of in safe ways, as regulated in wealthy countries. Some say the Global Trade Treaties can be amended, in service to workers’ rights, worker safety, and environmental protection. Some say the treaties must be abolished in order to protect sovereign nations’ legal right to protect their own workers and their own environment.
Although corporations themselves will ultimately collapse if workers cannot buy the products they make, no corporation faced with competition will voluntarily increase its costs by paying workers more, increasing benefits, or spending more for environmentally sustainable practises. These result only from regulations, from pressure from organized labor, or from extremely well organized social pressure.
Universal Human Rights: Wherever hunger, poverty, and preventable child death exist, human rights abuses are also prevalent. The trafficking of children and women into the sex trade is impossible where poverty does not make people desperate. In the poorest countries, young girls may take an older sex partner to obtain school fees of $30. Wherever dissidents, political opponents and “subversives” are arrested, detained, tortured, disappeared, or executed, legitimate popular movements for needed social change cannot succeed. There must be a world commitment to protecting human rights, so that efforts to establish fair wages, fair working conditions, political and social change are possible.
Civil Rights: Diversity is everywhere in nature. No two trees are quite alike, nor are any two maple leaves exactly alike. We must value diversity among people, and oppose discrimination on account of differences. Richard Florida’s 2002 best-seller, “The Rise of the Creative Class” documents that US cities reflecting the greatest diversity, and tolerance for diversity, demonstrate the highest potential for economic growth. The life of Jesus was a model of defending the dignity of all. He affiliated with everyone considered outcasts in his day. Jesus’s life challenges us to love especially the outcasts, demonstrating God’s love for every individual. We are sisters and brothers all. We cannot leave behind a member of our family without spiritual damage to ourselves.
Instant Communications for Change: Computer networks, TV satellite networks, cell phones, and fax machines communicate new ideas and grand concepts instantly to the most remote communities on earth. Likewise, cries for help and reports of human rights abuses travel instantly around the world. Imagine how fast the world can evolve in this wholly new paradigm. All Issues Connected: It is not only possible to eliminate the worst aspects of hunger, poverty, child & maternal death, and human rights abuses — it is essential for political stability, environmental sustainability, and peace. The myth that famine, disease, and war are just “Nature’s way of controlling population” proves to be totally false. No war, plague, famine, or disaster has ever had much impact on population growth. Progress in any one of these areas contributes to progress in all of them, for all are related, and none is resolvable alone. This IS a world in which service to the poorest woman and child on the planet is not only the right thing to do, but is integral to our survival as a species.
What to Do: Join others who work on these issues; nobody can be effective alone either in mission or in activism. Let us work for a world in which strategies are universally in place for human survival, immunizations, oral rehydration therapy, vaccinations, basic health, growth monitoring, safe water, sanitation, vitamin therapy, basic education, microcredit lending, and family planning assistance.
This is not ‘welfare’ but an investment in society’s future …. not a ‘hand-out’ but a ‘hand-up’ …. not ‘cash transfers to the poor robbed from confiscatory taxes on the rich’ as Rush Limbaugh says while dismissing all policy of compassion, but ‘ladders of opportunity’ we can extend to the least fortunate, so that all people can escape poverty through their own efforts. Conservative estimates based on studies funded by the World Bank state that $200 invested in Child Survival programs today saves the life of a child. It will improve the lives of dozens of children, but actually save one child’s life. All that is needed is the will to commit the resources toward this vision. If you give $200 to Unicef, you save a child’s life. It’s just that simple.
Many experts estimate that if the world — the whole world — could increase its financial commitment to such programs by $50 billion a year, universal human development could be achieved — hunger & poverty liminated — in our lives. The U.S. share of this — an additional $3 billion a year — could come from reallocating resources already in our foreign assistance budget. The US spends $3 billion on military appropriations every two days.
Consider the four areas of involvement affecting hunger and poverty:
Education is essential before anyone can feel motivated to get into action. We must know of the need, and believe that our help will make a difference, to act. Are you a speaker or a writer?
Relief efforts provide immediate assistance with food, clothing, and shelter. Hands-on work is always needed at local food pantries or missions. Food pantries, Larry Jones Feed the Children, and World Vision are relief opportunities.
Development organizations go into impoverished areas to work alongside clients to engage them in solving poverty issues. It is slower work with long-term results. World Neighbors in Oklahoma City has development. programs in 19 foreign countries.
Advocacy is activism for change in policy and social values. Citizen advocacy for effective policy on poverty is organized by groups like RESULTS, Bread for the World, Children’s Defense Fund and Oklahoma Institute for Child
Advocacy, offering myriad opportunities for local, national, and global efforts. Get connected to others already active by checking their websites, easily findable. However much or little you can do, you will be joining a worldwide effort to better the human condition. Everyone involved reports that they receive far more than they could ever give.
Nathaniel Batchelder, Director of The Peace House in Oklahoma City, is a member of RESULTS, an international citizens’ lobby to end hunger and poverty. He has served on the speakers’ bureau of World Neighbors, a 40 year-old Oklahoma City NGO with numerous international awards for effective programs in sustainable development around the world.