People around the world have asked this question many times. Can real poverty be truly eradicated in not only third world countries, but in first world countries also? The term ‘poverty’ is relative, in a first world country; the poor are still many times wealthier than the poor in a third world country. It can be argued that if we ignore the world’s poverty, then nothing will be done to minimise the suffering of children and adults, malnourished and subjected to disease and premature deaths. Some people may argue that it takes just one person to change the world, and can take steps to bring about change. For instance, Nelson Mandela saw the end to apartheid in South Africa, but this was not poverty. William Wilberforce ended modern day slavery in Britain, but this too was not poverty.
Unfortunately, our world consists of the ‘haves’ and the ‘have nots’. In a perfect world, this distinction would disappear. Every person on the planet would have access to education, clean drinking water, plentiful food supplies and adequate medical care to ward off diseases, such as diphtheria, measles, mumps, malaria, chicken pox, and tuberculosis etc. However, childhood mortality rates escalate in third world countries. In the Philippines, India, Bangladesh, Papua New Guinea, Cambodia, Vietnam or Nepal, for instance, scarcity of vaccinations result in children succumbing to premature death. The slums and destitute villages are home to poverty stricken people who are struggling to cope, and survive on a daily basis. What many first world countries would discard as rubbish would constitute a feast for their starving masses. Sorting through disease ridden rubbish dumps is a necessary source of food for the destitute and poor in these impoverished countries.
The organisation “Oaktree” is expanding in numbers and is comprised of young volunteers, aged between 16 to 26 years of age, who are following their moral compass and demonstrating a need to break the poverty cycle, through education, fundraising, public awareness and by other means, in some of the poorest communities. To date, there are over 120,000 members and branches located in all Australian States. Overseas, this organisation has supported over 60,000 youth, by implementing programmes to not only educate communities, but to put into place strategies to counteract poverty and all that it entails. “Oaktree” is Australia’s largest youth-run organisation. It has been instrumental in lobbying against child slavery, foreign aid cuts, working for indigenous equality, refugee rights and lastly, but not least, climate change. The ‘End Child Slavery’ campaign was a national initiative which lobbied chocolate companies to certify their products as Fairtrade and slave-free.
Foreign Aid has been reduced over time, as the Australian Government only provides 0.35, to the world’s poor, which is less than 1%. This translates to a third of a one percent of our overall national income which the Government gives. When compared to other donor nations, this amount is extremely meagre.
Considering Australia is a comparatively rich, first world country which has escaped the global financial crisis, surely Australia should be more generous? Whilst our present Government has been in power, we have experienced the worst global financial crisis since the Great Depression, 80 years ago. We are the only country in the OECD to avoid a recession and are considered to be the envy of the world and are praised for our status worldwide. We have been amazingly successful considering the global economic climate; our debt to GDP ratio is one of the smallest on the planet and we have an excellent rating from all rating agencies. Yet, considering how well our country is progressing, only a minuscule amount of financial assistance is forwarded to our financially struggling global neighbours.
There are many aspects of poverty. For example, a lack of opportunity, lack of education, a lack of Government infrastructure designed to alleviate poverty, lack of motivation in some instances, lack of knowledge and also the very fact that distribution of wealth is never even… it is always a compromise. Certain political systems such as dictatorships exacerbate the poverty of their citizens. Zimbabwe’s, Robert Magabe, for instance, has achieved his wealth off the backs of people, and their misery. It is an example of very uneven income distribution in that particular country which favours the chosen few who are aligned politically with the ruling power clique. Sadly, there are numerous other countries like this, Bangladesh for instance, where the distribution of wealth is equally uneven, and perpetuating the spectre of poverty. One out of three people on this planet is malnourished. Eighteen million people die from starvation each year, many living in the sort of countries outlined above.
In essence, wealth and poverty are the two extremes of the energy consumption scale. If you are extremely wealthy, you command a vast amount of energy, if you are extremely poor; you have little to no energy to command. While energy has a price, there will always be unequal distribution of wealth. Compare the consumption of energy by individuals in first world countries with that available to the poor or third world countries, huddled over their smoky log fires, to cook emaciated chickens, rodents and the like. These people have very little access to energy, whether it is to fuel their cooking, provide transport or shelter and warmth. Compare that, with the average household in a first world country, where the vast majority are guaranteed to have a roof over their heads if they want it, more than likely own a motor vehicle, think nothing of eating take away foods, air condition and heat their homes and use artificial light. Poverty and wealth, therefore, are not simple issues of greed, but have hidden within them, far more serious implications, such as access to opportunity, resources and supportive Governments.
It is highly commendable for people of all ages, and from all walks of life to demonstrate their social conscience by working to promote social justice in all communities, worldwide. Every person deserves to have at least the very basic means of survival and the choice to provide adequate living conditions for their families. I sincerely wish that the amount of foreign aid from Australia will increase and assist with reducing poverty to the severely malnourished and starving people. It is self evident from the progress of “Oaktree” and their members, just what they can accomplish towards alleviating this massive problem. Unfortunately, I think that poverty cannot be totally abolished on a world scale. Poverty’s impact on children and adults alike can be diminished to some degree. Again and again history tells us that education, enterprise and providing opportunity will enable the poor to migrate out of poverty. While first world Governments remains steadfast on distributing only a fraction of the financial assistance third world countries need and much of it in the form of loans that have little prospect of being repaid, or that require these countries to devote much needed prime agricultural land to cash crops that the lending countries clamour for, rather than having it available to feed their own poor, poverty will remain the curse of the Twentyfirst century.
We in the first world should also recognise that it is not in our interest to lift the citizens of third world countries out of poverty except as a moral duty. Economically, the wealth and life style we enjoy in the first world requires the sweat and labour of the poor, prepared to work for low wages, in substandard conditions and for long hours. Without their sacrifice the edifice of modern capitalism in the first world would be under severe pressure. Once we lift the poor out of poverty who will do the jobs we shun, make the cheap goods that we so readily accumulate and discard? Whether we have moral qualms about this state of affairs or not, we need to understand that the true elimination of poverty across the globe will have profound implications for those who currently enjoy relative affluence. There is a stark choice to be made. If we eliminate poverty by lifting the poor out of it, how do we, at the top maintain our relative position in the hierarchy of affluence? Alternatively, do we give up our position and curb our own lifestyles and expectations for our children so that we may more evenly distribute the world’s resources amongst all of us? If so, how do we sell this to those who have everything to lose and nothing to gain? Despite the posturing and moralising about poverty, it’s simply a problem Governments around the world address with as little enthusiasm as is decent to remain in power.