Monday, May 14, 2007

The Ubiquitousness of Poverty

Today I read a book review by Nicholas Kristof of Poor People by William Vollmann. I found these paragraphs disquieting:

One measure of the ubiquity of these tradeoffs is that today, as every day, 30,000 children will die of hunger, disease, and other consequences of poverty, according to UNICEF. In many cases, those will be daughters, because parents (particularly in South Asia) don't have the resources to keep all their children alive, so they put a finger on the scales on the side of their sons. In India alone, among children aged one to five, girls are 50 percent more likely to die than boys—meaning that 130,000 Indian girls are mortally discriminated against each year.

Poverty both in the US and around the world remains a central fact of twenty-first-century life; a majority of the world lives on less than $2 a day, one common measure of who is poor. Yet we manage, pretty successfully, to ignore it and insulate ourselves even from poverty in our own country. When it pops out from behind the screen after an episode like the Watts riots of 1965 or the New Orleans hurricane of 2005, then we express horror and indignation and vow change, and finally shrug and move on. Meanwhile, the world's five hundred wealthiest people have the same income as the world's poorest 416 million.

I have been thinking about all of the wars that take place in the world today. I have often wondered how many of those wars are fought over such simple things as access to clean, potable water? Many wars, historically, are fought over access to natural resources.

It makes me wonder: how much money it would cost to provide clean, potable water to everyone in the world? How many needless deaths can we prevent just by expanding access to water? Water is life. Where you find water, you find civilization. Many of the diseases that Bill Gates and Warren Buffett want to eradicate probably start from unclean water supplies. I don't think it is enough to go after the diseases themselves. We need to go after their root causes.

How does this tie in to my post? Most of these people cannot afford individually -- even collectively -- to build water treatment plants. They cannot build wells deep enough to reach potable water and bring it to the surface. Some countries might be able to utilize water from the sea if they could afford desalinization plants.

This is the sort of problem that truly does need cooperation from everyone in the world and funding primarily from wealthy countries and individuals.

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