Selected Excerpts from
The Skeptics Guide to Global Poverty
By Dale Hanson Bourke
We, the Relatively Rich
If you are reading this book, you are probably not poor. You may feel poor compared to your friends and neighbors, but in the perspective of the world, you are not poor.
It is not just that the relatively modest cost of this book would exceed a poor person’s income for a week; it is that the poor lack access to information. They do not have bookstores or libraries. Most cannot read. Those who go to school often leave at an early age to help support the family. And many suffer from impaired vision because they lack simple nutrients in their diets or suffer a small infection that goes untreated.
Being poor, it turns out, is much more complicated than lack of money. Poverty runs deep into the family and community, robbing individuals and whole societies of life-saving information, health care, food, and water. Poverty robs individuals not only of security and health, but also dignity. A poor person is often too busy surviving the present to spend much time thinking about the future. And yet, the poor do have dreams. Voices of the Poor, a series of books created by the World Bank, quotes poor people whose hopes and dreams—especially for their children—are much like ours.
Fixing poverty isn’t easy either. So many have tried in so many ways that the average person views poverty as an intractable condition. Some even like to quote the words of Jesus, “You will always have the poor among you . . .”, as evidence that poverty is simply part of the human condition. But just as knowledge is power to the poor, it is also power to those of us who are relatively rich. We can make a difference, but we have to understand more. We need to be smarter about poverty.
What does it mean to be poor? Is there an objective measure of poverty?
More than 1 billion people in the world live on less than $1 per day according to the World Bank. These people are considered the poorest of the poor and lack enough resources for basic survival. Worldwide, 2.7 billion live on less than $2 per day. Practically, that means that they are often hungry and malnourished, have limited or no access to clean water, no health care, and little or no access to education. The infant mortality rate is high, the life expectancy is low, and exposure to disease is constant and often deadly.
Why do we hear so
much about poverty in
There are pockets of
poverty in many parts of the world, but sub-Saharan
Why is the
What is the
The term was first
used in the 1950s during the Cold War to distinguish countries that were not aligned
with the West or the Soviet Bloc. Today, however, the term is frequently used
to denote nations that are poor, not industrialized, or low on the development
index as measured by the UN. There is no
objective definition of
Why are so many people starving? Isn’t there enough food in the world?
Actually, there is plenty of food in the world to feed every person, yet more than 800 million people are chronically hungry. Hunger and poverty are responsible for approximately 25,000 deaths each day according to the UN World Food Program. The problem is not food production, but food availability. In many parts of the world, people do not have access to adequate quantities of food or food with sound nutritional value. Many poor people fill their stomachs with starches, such as maize or rice, that provide few nutrients. Poor people cannot adequately protect themselves against nature’s cycles, so have a hard time preserving food for times of drought. They have limited ability to irrigate dry soil or protect crops against the hot sun or invading pests.
Wars further disrupt people’s ability to grow crops or find ongoing food supplies. And environmental factors, such as soil erosion and water pollution, are also harmful to food production. In some parts of the world, the deserts are encroaching more and more on once productive land.
Why is it so hard for people to get clean water?
Only 2.5 percent
of water on the Earth is fresh water, and more than two thirds of that is
frozen. Water demand exceeds supply in
much of the world, including developed countries.
But many people do not have the ability to bring water from one place to another efficiently or to store water for droughts. In some villages, women spend much of their day walking to a source of water, filling their buckets, and bringing the water back to the village. To some people, the “rainy season,” when rains fill ponds and streams, provides the only water for the rest of the year. For months after the rains end, women dip their buckets into fetid water and livestock drink and walk in the same water. Some aid organizations concentrate on drilling wells to help provide access to clean water. But depending on the geography of the region, wells may need to be dug through hard rock or may require more than a hand pump to draw the water out of the well.
Other sources of clean water are becoming polluted by industry, run off from fields, or use by livestock and humans of the same bodies of water for bathing and drinking water.
What does AIDS have to do with poverty?
Poverty relates to
HIV/AIDS in many ways. Those who are poor are often malnourished and in poor health.
They easily contract malaria and tuberculosis, making them even more
susceptible to HIV infections. Women are often infected in poor countries because
they have little power to resist sexual advances or to insist on protection if
their husband is infected. Some women are so poor that they trade sex for food,
especially if their children are starving.
Men are also victims of poverty, often having to travel to another
country to work for months at a time and often going to local prostitutes. Men
who worked as truckers in
Why are there so many wars and conflicts in poor countries?
Poor countries often lack strong leadership, healthy democracies, and adequate infrastructures—including courts—to handle the types of conflicts that occur in daily life. In addition, people in many poor countries must struggle to gain access to water and other natural resources needed for daily life, so it is common for property disputes to occur when such resources are controlled by a few.
Natural resources such as oil are another factor creating tension in countries where rights are not clearly established by law and outside forces often fuel control over the resources giving little to the poor people in the country. People are frequently driven out of their homes by wars or natural disasters and make their way into other regions or lands where they are considered outsiders. Sometimes this creates tension in the new land.
What is microfinance and how does it help people?
Microfinance has become one of the most effective
ways to help the poor
move up and out of poverty. Muhammad Yunus won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2006
for his work in microfinance through the Grameen Bank, which operates in
There are a number of microfinance organizations, some faith-based or with a particular emphasis to their work. Many emphasize group loans, meaning a group of individuals comes together to cross-collateralize the loans. Most organizations give the majority of their loans to women.
An increasing emphasis is on providing savings opportunities for the poor. Traditionally, the poor could not safely accumulate funds, so had a hard time saving enough to pay for schooling or to buy property. As the poor are able to create income because of loans, they also need to be able to save money in banks, where it will gain interest and remain secure.
Other financial products growing out of microfinance include insurance for health, burial costs
(important in areas where deaths from AIDS is significant), crop failure, and other natural disasters.
What does it mean
to be poor in
developing world for a
variety of reasons. Poverty is defined as having a family income that is less
than the poverty line. In 2007 that means that a family of four living on less
than $20,650 is living below the poverty line and is, therefore, considered
“poor.” An individual who makes less than $10,210 is poor, but that is equal to
living on $28 per day. Unlike the poor
in developing countries, a person who is poor in the
Some economists suggest that in a developed country, poverty should be defined as “significantly less access to income and wealth than other members of society.” By that definition the poverty rate is linked to income inequality.
I am a donor to a humanitarian organization and sometimes wonder if my contribution really makes a difference. How can I know?
Giving to a nonprofit organization should be a way to not only help others but also to become educated about the issues. Start by reading the website of the organization to see how they operate and exactly what type of work they do. Does the organization do the work itself or pass the contributions through to others? Is the organization accredited by one of the watchdog agencies? Charity Navigator (www.charitynavigator. com) is one way to get basic information about a nonprofit organization and an overview of their work and efficiency.
If you are a donor you have the right to ask for more information about the work and should request an annual report. You may also want to review the form 990, a detailed financial report every nonprofit must file and must make available to anyone who requests a copy. Most organizations have a copy available on their website. The 990 shows exactly how much of the organization’s funds went to work in different areas and also lists the salaries of the top executives.
Is child sponsorship a good way to help children?
Child sponsorship exists primarily as a way to help people in developed countries identify with one poor child. Groups like World Vision, Save the Children, Compassion, and others have used child sponsorship as a development model for many years. It has been a very powerful tool for keeping donors engaged and for educating donors about the types of issues facing that child. Over the years, most child sponsorship organizations have grown from helping just the individual child to creating infrastructure to assist the entire community.
The largest child sponsorship organizations voluntarily cooperate with one another to promote best practices and to minimize potential harm to the children. This includes making sure donations actually go to the intended purpose, and keeping donors from visiting children without notice, since this has created some instances of child predators gaining access to children.
Organizations based on a child sponsorship model keep children as the focus of their work. As with any organization, it is important to check that a particular group is accredited or review the documents from the organization so that you feel good about your donation.
How does one person get started?
Reading this book and then finding more information on websites or through the bibliography (page 109) is a good way to start. Are there certain types of poverty-related problems that particularly interest you? Learning more about the causes of those particular problems may lead you to an organization already working to solve the problem. Do you wish others knew more about the problems of poverty? Why not organize a group at your office, place of worship, or school to study the issues and suggest ways to get involved?