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Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger
Moving from Affluence to Generosity
By Ronald J. Sider
Thomas NelsonCopyright © 2015 Ronald J. Sider
All rights reserved.
A BILLION HUNGRY NEIGHBORS
Sometimes I think, "If I die, I won't have to see my children suffering as they are." Sometimes I even think of killing myself. So often I see them crying, hungry; and there I am, without a cent to buy them some bread. I think, "My God, I can't face it! I'll end my life. I don't want to look anymore!"
— IRACEMA DA SILVA RESIDENT OF AS LUMIN BRAZIL
Can overfed, comfortably clothed, and luxuriously housed persons understand poverty? Can we truly feel what it is like to be a nine-year old boy playing outside a village school he cannot attend because his father is unable to afford the books? (Which, incidentally, would cost less than my wife and I spent on entertainment one evening during the writing of this book.) Can we comprehend what it means for poverty-stricken parents to watch with helpless grief as their baby daughter dies of a common childhood disease because they lack access to elementary health services? Can we grasp the awful truth that eighteen thousand children die every day, most of hunger and preventable diseases?
To help us imagine what poverty means, a prominent economist itemized the "luxuries" we would have to abandon if we were to adopt the lifestyle of our 1.2 billion neighbors who live in desperate poverty trying to survive on $1.25 per day:
We begin by invading the house of our imaginary American family to strip it of its furniture. Everything goes: beds, chairs, tables, television set, lamps. We will leave the family with a few old blankets, a kitchen table, a wooden chair. Along with the bureaus go the clothes. Each member of the family may keep in his "wardrobe" his oldest suit or dress, a shirt or blouse. We will permit a pair of shoes for the head of the family, but none for the wife or children.
We move to the kitchen. The appliances have already been taken out, so we turn to the cupboards ... The box of matches may stay, a small bag of f lour, some sugar, and salt. A few moldy potatoes, already in the garbage can, must be hastily rescued, for they will provide much of tonight's meal. We will leave a handful of onions, and a dish of dried beans. All the rest we take away: the meat, the fresh vegetables, the canned goods, the crackers, the candy.
Now we have stripped the house: the bathroom has been dismantled, the running water shut off, the electric wires taken out. Next we take away the house. The family can move to the toolshed ...
Communications must go next. No more newspapers, magazines, books — not that they are missed, since we must take away our family's literacy as well. Instead, in our shantytown we will allow one radio ...
Now government services must go. No more postman, no more firemen. There is a school, but it is three miles away and consists of two classrooms ... There are, of course, no hospitals or doctors nearby. The nearest clinic is ten miles away and is tended by a midwife. It can be reached by bicycle, provided that the family has a bicycle, which is unlikely ...
Finally, money. We will allow our family a cash hoard of $5.00. This will prevent our breadwinner from experiencing the tragedy of an Iranian peasant who went blind because he could not raise the $3.94, which he mistakenly thought he needed to receive admission to a hospital where he could have been cured.
It is difficult to obtain precise statistics, but the World Bank estimates that 1.2 billion people live in that kind of grinding poverty — trying to survive on $1.25 a day. In addition to these 1.2 billion who live in almost absolute poverty, another 1.2 billion are very poor, living on two dollars or less a day. That means almost one-third of the world's people (2.4 billion) struggle to exist on two dollars a day or less.
Hunger and starvation stalk our world. Famine and disease are alive and well on planet Earth. Those suffering in grinding poverty are at greatest risk. Eighteen thousand children under five die every day, most from hunger and preventable diseases. A third of those deaths result from pneumonia, diarrhea, and malaria — which are easily treated or prevented. In 2010–2012, 870 million people were chronically undernourished.
In a book published in 2013, prominent development economists Abhijit V. Banerjee and Esther Duflo help us understand the dire situation of more than 800 million of the world's poorest. When we take into account the differing costs in various countries, their situation is like trying to live in Miami, Florida on 99 American cents per day!
The news, however, is not all bad. In fact, there is very good news. More people escaped poverty in the first decade of the twenty-first century than in any decade in human history! Globally, the percentage of people living below the international poverty level ($1.25 per person per day) has plunged by more than 50 percent since 1990!9 (see chart 1 on page 6)
In 2010, the millennium development goal to cut in half the percentage of people living in poverty was met, five years ahead of schedule. The Global Hunger Index (GHI) dropped 34 percent from 1990 to 2013. The GHI measures hunger through three factors: undernourishment, underweight children, and child mortality. The Human Development Index (HDI) is another important measure of poverty. The HDI is a composite index that takes into account life expectancy, educational attainment, and command over resources for a decent living — to measure progress in reducing poverty and improving well-being. The number of countries in the bottom quarter of the HDI dropped from 33 in 1990 to 15 in 2012.11 For the world as a whole, the global average HDI improved 41 percent between 1970 and 2010.
The main reason for this improvement has been the dramatic growth of some Global South economies, where many of the poor live. Between 1990 and 2008, China lifted an astonishing "510 million people out of poverty." "China's per capita income grew an astounding 1,200 percent" between 1970 and 2010.14 India's poor decreased from half the population in 1990 to less than one-third in 2012. And in Brazil, the percentage of those living on $1.25 a day went from 17 percent to just 6 percent.
The Global South in general has seen tremendous and unprecedented economic growth. In 1990, the South produced only about a third of global economic output, but in 2013 the South accounted for half. Trade has increased among countries of the South, tripling in the period from 1980 to 2011.
Between 1968 and 2012, Indonesia's economy grew at a rate of 6.2 percent per year.
Unfortunately, the picture is not nearly so bright for many. Countries in South Asia reduced those living in extreme poverty from 61 percent in 1981 to 36 percent in 2008, but over half a billion people are still mired in extreme poverty. In spite of major growth in total GDP in India, there has been no drop in the number of hungry people ("those who regularly lack enough calories for an active, healthy life") in India over the last decade. There were 214 million in 2001 and 217 million in 2011.
In sub-Saharan Africa, nearly 70 percent of the population lived on $2 a day or less in the years 2007–2010. Both the number and percentage of hungry people have increased. In 1970, the figure was 103 million (38 percent of the region's population). By 1980, the number had grown to 125.4 million. By 2001, it was 198.4 million. A decade later, there were 234 million hungry people in sub-Saharan Africa.
In dozens of poor nations, a child has a smaller chance of living to age 5 than an American child has of living to age 65. And in a number of poor nations, one out of every 25 women die from complications in pregnancy and childbirth. In fact, in sub-Saharan Africa, women in childbirth have a one-in-thirty chance of dying. In the developed world, the figure is one in 5600!
We cannot know the exact number of people lacking minimally adequate diets, clothing, and shelter. And this number varies depending on harvests, war, and natural disasters. Even though we have seen significant improvement, the overall picture is still tragic. More than a billion desperate neighbors live in wrenching poverty — and another 1.2 billion struggle to make ends meet on $2 a day.
New Economic Divisions in the World
Almost all of the 1.2 billion desperately poor people live in what used to be called the Third World. For many years, all countries that were not part of the developed world (whether capitalist or communist) were lumped together as "Third World" nations. But changes in the last forty years have necessitated a new division. The World Bank divides countries into four categories: low income, lower-middle income, upper-middle income, and high income. According to the World Bank, "Economies are divided according to 2012 GNI [Gross National Income] per capita, calculated using the World Bank Atlas method. The four groups are: low income ($1,035 or less); lower middle income ($1,036–$4,085); upper middle income ($4,086–$12,615); and high income ($12,616 or more)."
Low-income countries (847 million people). Nepal, Cambodia, Bangladesh, North Korea, Afghanistan, and many African countries, including Ethiopia, Burundi, Chad, Tanzania, Rwanda, and Malawi belong to the low-income countries. The per capita GNI in low-income countries is $1,035 or less. According to the World Bank's World Development Indicators, in 2012 the infant mortality rate in low-income countries was 56 per 1,000 live births, compared to 6 per 1,000 live births in the United States.
According to the World Development Indicators database, in 2011 39 percent of the people in low-income countries over the age of fifteen could not read. But illiteracy in some low-income countries was much worse. In Guinea, 75 percent were illiterate.
Hundreds of millions of people in low-income countries still live — unnecessarily! — in appalling conditions.
Lower-middle-income countries (2.5 billion people). This cat egory includes many Latin American countries, such as Bolivia ($2,200); a few African nations like Nigeria ($1,440); states that were once part of the former Soviet bloc, such as Ukraine ($3,500) and Georgia ($3,290); and Asian nations like Vietnam ($1,550) and Laos ($1,270) at the bottom of the scale, and Indonesia ($3,420) at the top. The annual per capita GNI in these countries ranges from $1,036–$4,085. These countries have a some- what brighter future, although they still have large numbers of very poor people.
Upper-middle-income countries (2.4 billion people). Included in this category are the richest Latin American nations (e.g., Brazil and Venezuela). China ($5,720) has moved up from the low income classification in just the past two decades. Per capita GNI ranges from Albania's $4,030 to Venezuela's $12,460.
High-income countries (1.3 billion people). Per capita GNI in these developed countries ranges from Poland's $12,660 to Norway's $98,780 and Switzerland's $80,780. For the U.S., it is $52,340, the U.K., $38,500, and Japan, $47,870.
Over the past half-century, economic growth in the developing countries has differed by region (see Table 1). We see healthy growth in most areas during 1965–73. However, beginning in the 1970s, the regions begin to diverge. The annual growth of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in sub- Saharan Africa was actually 1 percent during the 1980s. But the population was growing so fast that the per capita GDP actually declined an average of .8 percent per year from 1980 to 1990.37 The average per capita GDP growth rate of the region since 1961 has been a mere .8 percent. Modest growth occurred between 2002–09 (2.7 percent), but that has cooled in recent years to 1.5 percent. Latin America's per capita growth was sub- stantial through about 1980, then declined significantly during the 1980s and 1990s, and then improved somewhat in the last decade (except for the Great Recession in 2009). This is in stark contrast to the situation in East and South Asia. East Asia (including China, South Korea, and Taiwan) has experienced per capita growth of 5.6 percent per year for more than five decades. South Asia, including India and Pakistan, experienced an annual 3 percent per capita growth during the same period.
Economic growth by itself, however, is not enough. Everyone in a country, especially the poorest, should benefit. Too often, however, overall economic growth primarily benefits the already rich. In Brazil a military dictatorship strongly supported by the United States fostered GDP growth at the rate of about 10 percent per year from 1968 to 1976. Growth of nearly 7 percent per year continued through 1980, but slowed to 2.2 percent from 1980 through 1993.
Who profited? Even Brazil's own minister of finance admitted in 1972 that only 5 percent of the people had benefited from the fantastic growth of the Brazilian economy. The Brazilian government did not challenge a 1974 study showing that the real purchasing power of the poorest twothirds of the people had declined by more than one-half in the preceding ten years. In 1989, two-thirds of Brazilian families tried to survive on less than $500 a month.
But things began to change substantially in 2003 with the election of President Luis Lula da Silva. He adopted the goal of "Zero hunger" in Brazil and began major new government programs to improve education, health care, and nutrition among poor Brazilians. Extreme poverty in Brazil fell from 10 percent in 2004 to 2 percent in 2009. The income of poor families jumped seven times as fast as the income of the richest. Although income inequality in Brazil is still very high, by 2009, it had dropped to the lowest level in fifty years. Government policies play a significant role in whether economic growth improves or bypasses the lot of the poor.
The story of Indonesia further illustrates this truth. Indonesia, a large, densely populated country with vast natural resources like Brazil, experienced an impressive annual economic growth of 7.2 percent for three decades from 1968 to 1998. Because of Indonesian government policies designed to improve the lot of the poor, their situation steadily improved over this whole period. From 1987 to 2011, the proportion of the population living on less than $1.25 a day declined from 68 percent to 16 percent — reflecting the government's strong commitment to poverty reduction. In 2011, the share of national income enjoyed by Indonesia's poorest fifth of the population was 7.3 percent. In Brazil it was still a mere 2.9 percent in spite of the successful anti-poverty measures by the Brazilian government starting in 2003.
There is a striking new development that has resulted from the fact that the rich too often benefit much more than the poor when a country experiences economic growth. In 1990, 90 percent of all the world's poor people lived in low-income countries. Today, 72 percent of the world's poor live in middle income countries! Countries like China, India, and Brazil have experienced rapid economic growth. But in spite of some major programs to assist the poorest, this great economic growth has left hundreds of millions mired in desperate poverty.
The story of the Alarins — a poor Filipino family — conveys their agony. Mr. Alarin made 70 cents on good days as an ice vendor. Several nights a month Mrs. Alarin stayed up all night to make a coconut sweet that she sold on the street. Total income for her midnight toil was 40 cents. Cooking utensils were their only furniture. The family had not tasted meat for a month when the president of World Vision visited them and wrote this account:
Tears washed her dark, sunken eye-sockets as she spoke: "I feel so sad when my children cry at night because they have no food. I know my life will never change. What can I do to solve my problems? I am so worried about the future of my children. I want them to go to school, but how can we afford it? I am sick most of the time, but I can't go to the doctor because each visit costs two pesos [28 cents] and the medicine is extra. What can I do?" She broke down into quiet sobbing. I admit without shame that I wept with her.
The tears and agony of the world's poor are captured in the words of Mrs. Alarin. World poverty is a hundred million mothers like Mrs. Alarin, weeping because they cannot feed their children.
Excerpted from Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger by Ronald J. Sider. Copyright © 2015 Ronald J. Sider. Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson.
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