(Part II: Poverty, Hunger & Disease)
November 3, 2009
Political, economic and social realities of many countries may have similar patterns, but they are not in any way reducible to a monotony of a single concept. Each manifested reality about a given people requires a room for authentic ideas to float—free of any foreign self-interested agenda. If the interest of a foreigner without a standing on matters of a people’s concern is woven into what should be an authentic voice of the native, the end of the grandest democratic right that should exist to better a people’s life will come into a screeching halt. A sovereignty lost by a people in this manner will give birth to a bastard “democracy” by aborting its genuine seed for a generic one. It’s with this in mind that we Ethiopians should forge ahead with our own blueprint of development, which may incorporate more or less foreign experience of the developed and developing countries as needed. And the decision in this regard should be ours and ours only.
Today, the heightened need for serious public discourse on how to bring about sustainable development is being underscored by the predicament of millions of our people. It will not be easy for us not to be emotional when we see the numbing condition of our own people on TV; it may not be easy for us to calmly and collectively hear each others’ voice while our ears are readily listening to a disheartening tale of our own country. It’s even harder for us to ponder back and relive our past history and remember the degree to which poverty, hunger and disease had bedeviled our people. Understandably so; it is so hard.
For a moment though, we have to swallow our anger and frustration so that a civil and fact-based discourse should take place setting aside our emotions. We have to stop agonizing over our wounded spirit and ask ourselves if our disheartened feeling is desirable to begin with. Our national pride should not be malleable; if it is, it might have not been as adamantine and as solid an Ethiopian national pride that many millions of us have deep at heart.
We have to see poverty, hunger and disease for what they are with zeal and enthusiasm to defeat each of these bedeviling trios of humanity. No shame, wounded spirit and agony will help us take this fight to success. For a good fight, we should begin with the understanding that poverty, hunger and disease are the trios of our heightened national security concerns. However, any discourse should not in any way be inclined to overdramatize and stretch our conditon to the extent of making Ethiopia an isolated case of such bedeviling—out of the reaches of any cure. It’s very true, the titles and comments by many, especially Western media is such a force, we have to learn not to give it a chance to take the life out of who we’re. If any, the predicament of our people should make us come together to work as hard as we should to defeat these bedeviling enemies.
The appalling numbers should not frighten us—to make us weary of our goal. Ethiopia is not an isolated case of poverty, hunger and disease. This very fact should not in any way be taken to give us a twisted sense of relief. Rather, it should make us knowledgeable, so that the plan we design and the goal we set to reach should be feasible. The numbers are not an isolated case of peculiarity to the so called “South” either, but mirror the appalling statistics of poverty, hunger and disease of the world. The numbing statistics of global poverty, hunger and disease and the reality they represent in the daily lives of billions of people clearly points to the need for further investigation by those who’re particularly concerned with human well-being.
The pivotal importance of a detailed research on these bedeviling enemies of humanity should not be obviated by the inclination of the global media, to direct attention away from the ever-present unvoiced crisis, which these three enemies of humanity represent. Succinctly put, the global media has to stop its inclination towards crises of a ‘newsworthy’ and sensational nature.
Behind the blaring headlines of the world’s many conflicts and emergencies, there lies a silent crisis—a crisis of underdevelopment, of global poverty, of ever-mounting population pressures, of thoughtless degradation of the environment. This is not a crisis that will respond to emergency relief or to fitful policy interventions. It requires a long, quiet process of sustainable human development.
(UNDP 1994: iii)
Billions of people in the world are under siege by poverty and the appalling statistics bespeak unambiguously. The combined wealth of the world’s three richest individuals is greater than the total GNP of the 48 poorest countries. In other words, a quarter of all the world’s states have fewer riches than the three wealthiest persons in the entire world. The trend of wealth accumulation into few hands continues unabated and, not surprisingly, it is being accompanied by the increasing number of poverty stricken people. In what is an utter irony, the number of people without enough food, shelter and work is constantly growing while goods are more abundant than ever before. This unholy economic trend continues to define our interconnected world and the prospect of poverty, hunger and disease claiming ever increasing causalities will stay highly likely.
In general, our world taken as a whole is not at all poverty stricken; yet the trend is such that, it seems we have a seemingly resourceless planet devoid of life sustaining means. But facts reveal that basic needs of the worlds needy could have been meet had the world been a place for symmetric international economic system. According to UN, the basic needs for food, drinking water, education and medical care for the needy, can be paid for by a levy of less than 4 % on the accumulated wealth of the 225 largest fortunes.
The great disparity in wealth shows how our world is ruled by asymmetric economic system that funnels wealth from the many to few big interests. Because of unfettered market liberalization, for example, the disparity between the haves and the have-nots of our world has continued over the last 20 years. In 1960, the income of 20 % of the world’s population living in the richest countries was 30 times greater than that of the 20 % in the poorest countries. Thirty-five years later, in 1995, it was 82 times greater. Correspondingly, in over 70 countries of our world, which is equivalent to about 35% of the number of states that make up our world community, per capita income deepened than it was 20 years ago. Clearly, the global market for international political economy is at work—blindingly favoring the developed world. This has to change and less of a reasonable overhaul of this system will make it harder to solve the crises of poverty, hunger and disease in our world to which Ethiopia is part and parcel. How so? You may ask; for which I will post the answer for in Part III of this article.
Some statistical notes are taken from the following suggested reading:
(1) Human Development Report 1998, United Nations Development Programme, New York, September 1998. See also Dominique Vidal, "Dans le Sud, développement ou régression?", Le Monde diplomatique, October 1998.
(2) See Sylvie Brunel and Jean-Luc Bodin, Géopolitique de la faim. Quand la faim est une arme, (annual report by Action Against Hunger), PUF, Paris, 1998, 310 p., 125 F, soon to be available in English as "The Hunger Report".
(3) See "Human Rights and Asian Values: What Lee Kuan Yew and Le Peng don’t understand about Asia", The New Republic, July 14, 1997.