Thursday, July 24, 2008

indifference is not human

Discrimination, distance, and indifference... they’re inhuman companions, blind, deaf and dumb mates, interconnected. The three can be felt and seen together wherever there is a devaluing of life, the exclusion of others, or injustice (see the conversation of The Shar on Wednesday 23rd July, 2008). The everyday entrenchment of statistics on global poverty reveals something of the power of this inhumane triplet:
- 2.7 billion people struggle to survive on less than two dollars (US) per day. Poverty in the developing world means more than income poverty. It means having to walk more than one mile everyday simply to collect water and firewood; it means suffering diseases that were eradicated from rich countries decades ago. Every year eleven million children die-most under the age of five and more than six million from completely preventable causes like malaria, diarrhea and pneumonia.
more than 80 percent of the world’s population lives in countries where income differentials are widening.
- 26,500-30,000 children die each day due to poverty. And they “die quietly in some of the poorest villages on earth, far removed from the scrutiny and the conscience of the world. Being meek and weak in life makes these dying multitudes even more invisible in death” (UNICEF).
- the Food Security Assessment, 2007 projected that the food security situation in 70 developing countries will deteriorate over the next decade. The estimates also indicate that the number of food-insecure people for these countries rose between 2006 and 2007, from 849 million to 982 million. Food and fuel price hikes, coupled with a slowdown in global economic growth, hinder long-term food security progress.
- more than 800 million people go to bed hungry every day...300 million are children. Of these 300 million children, only eight percent are victims of famine or other emergency situations. More than 90 percent are suffering long-term malnourishment and micronutrient deficiency. Every 3.6 seconds another person dies of starvation and the large majority are children under the age of 5 (Millennium Project).
- 27-28 percent of all children in developing countries are estimated to be underweight or stunted. The two regions that account for the bulk of the deficit are South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa. If current trends continue, the Millennium Development Goals target of halving the proportion of underweight children will be missed by 30 million children, largely because of slow progress in Southern Asia and sub-Saharan Africa.
- nearly a billion people entered the 21st century unable to read a book or sign their names. Less than one per cent of what the world spent every year on weapons was needed to put every child into school by the year 2000 and yet it didn’t happen. In 2004, global military expenses exceeded $1 Trillion (US), but serious international terrorist attacks rose from 175 to 655 (Brian McClaren).
- infectious diseases continue to blight the lives of the poor across the world. An estimated 40 million people are living with HIV/AIDS. Every year there are 350–500 million cases of malaria, with 1 million fatalities: Africa accounts for 90 percent of malarial deaths and African children account for over 80 percent of malaria victims worldwide.
- water problems affect half of humanity.
- some 1.1 billion people in developing countries have inadequate access to water, and 2.6 billion lack basic sanitation.
- 1.8 billion people who have access to a water source within 1 kilometre, but not in their house or yard, consume around 20 litres per day. In the United Kingdom the average person uses more than 50 litres of water a day flushing toilets (where average daily water usage is about 150 liters a day. The highest average water use in the world is in the US, at 600 litres day).
- 1.4 million children die each year from lack of access to safe drinking water and adequate sanitation.
- 2.2 million children die each year because they are not immunized.
- 15 million children orphaned due to HIV/AIDS (similar to the total children population in Germany or United Kingdom).
- a woman living in sub-Saharan Africa has a 1 in 16 chance of dying in pregnancy. This compares with a 1 in 3,700 risk for a woman from North America.
- every minute, a woman somewhere dies in pregnancy or childbirth. This adds up to 1,400 women dying each day - an estimated 529,000 each year from pregnancy-related causes (Millennium Project).
- 12.3 million people are victims of forced labour worldwide; 2.4 million people are as a result of human trafficking.
- for every $1 in aid a developing country receives, over $25 is spent on debt repayment.
- three decades ago, the people in well-to-do countries were 30 times better off than those in countries where the poorest 20 percent of the world's people live. By 1998, this gap had widened to 82 times (up from 61 times since 1996).
- 13 million hectares of the world’s forests are cut down each year, including 6 million hectares of primary forests. Primary forests - forests with no visible signs of past or present human activities - are considered the most biologically diverse ecosystems on the planet. The world's rainforests are found in the poorest areas on the planet. The people who live in and around rainforests rely on these ecosystems for their survival. Thirty million species of plants and animals - more than half of all life forms on our planet live in rainforests.
- for economic growth and almost all of the other indicators, the last 20 years [of the current form of globalization, from 1980-2000] have shown a very clear decline in progress as compared with the previous two decades [1960-1980].
(Unless otherwise stated, these stats were cut and pasted from Anup Shah at http://www.globalissues.org/TradeRelated/Facts.asp, March 04, 2008)

And the list could go on and on, couldn’t it? You made it to the end of the list, right?

These “global facts” of discrimination, distance, and indifference will only mean something when we make them personal. It’s easy to discriminate against the faceless, nameless people caught in these statements and statistics; its easy to stay detached, distant from or indifferent to them; its easy to cite them and then file them, or if we’re brutally honest, forget them. What if you knew someone personally on this list, could you forget them then? What if you had family or your friends on this list? What if you got close enough to feel a thin hand of someone on this list clutching yours? What if you learnt the names of some of these people? What if you could sit down and exchange stories with these people, could you ignore the pleas for help then? What if you were even more daring and relocated to live where some of these listed people try to make a living? What difference would that make to how you hear, see and speak of these inhumane statistics?

See what I’m getting at?

The last thought goes to Nicholas Kristoff, a journalist with the New York Times who has covered the famine in Ethiopia:
“I often hear comments from readers like, ‘It’s tragic over there, but we’ve got our own problems that we have to solve first.’ Nobody who has held the hand of a starving African child could be that dismissive.”
(Nicholas Kristoff, cited in Jim Wallis, 2008, Seven Ways to Change the World, emphasis mine).

Could we? Could you? Could I?

Reaching-out and staying in-touch (touchable) is the essence of what it means to be human and the practice of a fairer world.

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