Eradicating poverty: An impossible dream?

By Henrylito D. Tacio
 
DO you consider yourself poor or rich?  Who are poor and who are rich?  If you have a hard time answering the question, read the story below:
 
As head of some of the top business corporations in the country, he has no time for his only son.  But lately, he was a little bit worried that his son was growing up fast and they never had the opportunity of bonding together.
 
So one day, he took his 7-year-old son on a trip to the province with the intention of showing him how poor people live in rural areas.   The father and son spent a couple of days and nights on the farm of what would be considered a very poor family.
 
“How was the trip?” asked the father on their return from their trip.  Great, the son replied.  The father asked again, “Did you see how poor people live?”  The son answered affirmatively.  “So, tell me, what have you learned from the trip?” asked the father.
 
The little boy did not answer his father immediately.  He was thinking and then shared this thought: “I saw that we have one dog and they had four. We have a pool that reaches to the middle of our garden and they have a creek that has no end. We have imported lanterns in our garden and they have the stars at night. Our patio reaches to the front yard and they have the whole horizon.
 
The son continued: “We have a small piece of land to live on and they have fields that go beyond our sight.  We have servants who serve us, but they serve others. We buy our food, but they grow theirs.  We have walls around our property to protect us, yet they have friends to protect them.”
 
Hearing his son’s answer, the father was completely speechless.  And even before he could say a word, the son added, “Thanks dad for showing me how poor we are.”
 
Ah to be poor.  “A rich man is nothing but a poor man with money,” commented Hollywood actor W.C. Fields.  Or, as one unknown author puts it, “The poor are poor because the rich are rich.”  But Marshall McLuhan quips, “Affluence creates poverty.”
 
John Berger subscribes to the idea. “The poverty of our century is unlike that of any other,” he says.  “It is not, as poverty was before, the result of natural scarcity, but of a set of priorities imposed upon the rest of the world by the rich.  Consequently, the modern poor are not pitied, but written off as trash.  The twentieth-century consumer economy has produced the first culture for which a beggar is a reminder of nothing.”
 
Here in the Philippines, the fast-growing population and the failure of household incomes to rise as fast as commodity prices have resulted in more poor Filipino families, according to the 2006 Official Poverty Statistics report released recently by the National Statistical Coordination Board (NSCB).
 
The report said 4.7 million families — equivalent to 26.9 percent of the total number of Filipino families — were poor in 2006, marking an increase from 4 million poor families in 2003.  It added that poverty incidence — the proportion of those considered poor to the total number of families — was at 26.9 percent in 2006, compared to 24.4 percent three years earlier.
 
“‘Poor’ refers to those whose incomes fall below the threshold determined by the government, or those who cannot afford to provide in a sustained manner for their minimum basic needs for food, health, education, housing and other social amenities in life,” explained NSCB Secretary General Romulo Virola in a press conference.
 
But poverty does not happen only in the Philippines but in other parts of the world as well.  Currently, more than 8 million people around the world die each year because they are too poor to stay alive.  The World Bank estimates that 1.3 billion people live in extreme poverty and Asia leads in numbers.
 
Extreme poverty, defined by World Bank as getting by on an income of less than US$1 a day, means that households cannot meet basic needs for survival.  They are chronically hungry, unable to get health care, lack safe drinking water and sanitation, cannot afford education for their children and perhaps lack rudimentary shelter and basic articles of clothing, like shoes.
 
“There are people in the world so hungry, that God cannot appear to them except in the form of bread,” observed Mahatma Gandhi.
 
The other two types of poverty are moderate and relative.  Moderate poverty, defined as living on US$1 to US$2 a day, refers to conditions in which basic needs are met, but just barely.  Being in relative poverty, defined by a household income level below a given proportion of the national average, means lacking things that the middle class now takes for granted.
 
“It is time we recognized poverty for what it is: a brutal denial of human rights,” urged James Gustave Speth when he was still the administrator of the United Nations Development Program.  “The poor are deprived of many things, including a long life.”
 
Will giving cash to those who are poor solve the problem?  “You can’t get rid of poverty by giving people money,” reminds P.J. O’Rourke in his book aptly titled, A Parliament of Whores.
 
Eradicating poverty can never be done by government alone.  Everyone must be involved.  “I know that government doesn’t have the all solutions that real solutions do not come from the top down,” surmised Kathleen Blanco.  “Instead, the ways to end poverty come from all of us. We are part of the solution.”
 
Nobel Peace Prize winner Kofi Annan agrees: “Whether our task is fighting poverty, stemming the spread of disease or saving innocent lives from mass murder, we have seen that we cannot succeed without the leadership of the strong and the engagement of all.”
 
For comments, write me at henrytacio@gmail.com
 

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