I asked whether we in the West have gotten any better at taking care of the the least of these in the post-Geldof era.
I also promised to share some of the insights that my admittedly surface-level research unearthed.
Fewer Desperately Poor Countries?
I tend to think of the world in two categories: developed and developing. But in my research for this post, I learned that the United Nations has a third category. The Least Developed Country (LDC) Club has 48 members – only three less than when the group was established in 1971. On the plus side, these three countries graduated to Developing status in 1994 (Botswana), 2007 (Cape Verde) and 2011 (Maldives), so momentum appears to be going in the right direction.
In 2011 the UN suggested that Equatorial Guinea, Samoa, Tuvalu, and Vanuatu are among the candidates for promotion from LDC status. At the UN’s fourth conference on LDCs held in 2011, delegates endorsed a goal targeting the promotion of at least half the current LDC countries within the next decade. Godspeed, UN!
That’s well and good, but it’s a little high-level for most of us individuals to feel like we can help. Therefore, let’s zoom down to the level of actual people.
Fewer Desperately Poor People?
According to the World Bank, the number of people who lived in 1990 under the extreme poverty rate of $1.25 a day (in 2005 prices) was halved by 2010. Sounds pretty good. And when you think that between 1990 and 2010, a Canada-size chunk of the world population was lifted out of extreme poverty each year, it even gets me a little excited.
My sails deflate, though, when I think that even if this rate of progress is maintained, there will still be about a billion people under that line in 2015 (the year that in 2000, the UN hoped we’d have extreme poverty eliminated), and we won’t bring the number to zero until 2045 or so. The World Bank has apparently set a goal of eradicating extreme poverty by 2030, which is a little better.
But I think it’s up to me and you, to make the dream come true, and meet – or beat – that goal. (Here’s hoping we do better with the World Bank’s 2013 goal than we did with the UN’s from 2000.)
After all, this isn’t an arbitrary financial benchmark like a country’s national debt – a number we know should really be lower, but as long as it’s going in the right direction (however slowly), that’s all that matters. These are people – people who are just as important to God as you and I are – who have less than the price of a candy bar to cover their food, clothing and shelter every day. And at the moment, there are about as many people in extreme poverty as there are in Western Europe, CanadAmerica, Japanorea and AustraZealand, combined.
And as I write this treatise on Western selfishness, my ears are burning. If I look at my footprint on the world, there’s no denying that I take more out than I put in.
Sure, my family sponsors a child in Indonesia and another one in Uganda. We kick in extra offerings to our church’s mission trips to Sierra Leone and the bricks-and-mortar projects that make a real, tangible difference to real people there. We give a significant chunk of our income to the United Way to help the needy here at home. The company I work for has strategic partnerships with three cutting-edge international relief agencies and in my job I help spread the word to our employees and the general public about the great work they’re doing.
- I buy special dirt just for my cats to poop in.
- A few months ago, I paid $50 for a device designed to fix a very serious crisis: my house is too big for my wireless router. (Talk about your First-World problems.)
- Endless clean water isn’t good enough for me – I have a filter in my kitchen that turns tap water into bottled-quality water, so it tastes (very slightly) better.
- I probably have more money, right now, in the ashtrays of my two cars than a poor family in Haiti spends in a week.
- My family of four has three iPhones, four iPods and an iPad.
- I don’t even want to think about how many families-of-four from sub-Saharan Africa could live comfortably (by their standards) in Chez Baldy – about a dozen (48 people) is my guess.
Peace be with you … but not too much peace.