Tuesday, 27 May 2008

How the other half dies

I have been working with poverty and poverty alleviation for almost 30 years. Many of my colleagues have rcently returned from Chad, Niger, Sudan, Afghanistan and Iraq and talk to me with a mixture of sadness and anger at the poverty they see. I regularly see it here in pockets in Indonesia.

After some time in India in the early 1980's, I was apalled with the poverty I saw. As an individual and working for a humanitarian organisation you can only do so much. What changed me greatly was a hard hitting book called "How the Other Half Dies
The Real Reasons for World Hunger " by Susan George

Hunger is not a scourge but a scandal. This is the premise of Susan George's classic study of world hunger. Contrary to popular opinion, malnutrition and starvation are not the result of over-population, of poor climate or lack of cultivatable land. The reason why hunger exists on such a vast scale is because world food supplies are controlled by the rich and powerful for the wealthy consumer. The multinational agribusiness corporations, Western governments with their food 'aid' policies and supposedly neutral multilateral development organizations share responsibility for the fate of the undeveloped countries. Working with local elites, protected by the powerful West, the United States paves the way and is gradually imposing its control over the whole planet. How the Other Half Dies was written after the World Food Conference in 1974.

I would like to introduce you to how people spend money on food and it really is a question of the rich getting richer, and the poor getting poorer. I joined the Red Cross when I was 22 when I felt so angry at my own Government's policy in Vietnam. I was there when Vietnam reunified as a country. That was a pleasure to see. So let's look at what people buy/eat on a weekly basis in different parts of the world. And what can we do as individuals ?

Look At The Food They Bought For One Week And The Number Of Persons In The Family

The Melander family of Bargteheide - 2 adults, 2 teenagers
Food expenditure for one week: 375.39 Euros or $500.07

The Revis family of North Carolina - 2 adults, 2 teenagers
Food expenditure for one week: $341.98

The Ukita family of Kodaira City - 2 adults, 2 teenagers
Food expenditure for one week: 37,699 Yen or $317.25

The Manzo family of Sicily - 2 adults, 3 kids
Food expenditure for one week: 214.36 Euros or $260.11

The Casales family of Cuernavaca - 2 adults, 3 kids
Food expenditure for one week: 1,862.78 Mexican Pesos or $189.09

The Sobczynscy family of Konstancin-Jeziorna - 4 adults, 1 teenager
Food expenditure for one week: 582.48 Zlotys or $151.27

The Ahmed family of Cairo - 7 adults, 5 kids
Food expenditure for one week: 387.85 Egyptian Pounds or $68.53

The Ayme family of Tingo - 4 adults, 5 teenagers
Food expenditure for one week: $31.55

The Namgay family of Shingkhey Village - 7 adults, 6 kids
Food expenditure for one week: 224.93 ngultrum or $5.03

The Aboubakar family of Breidjing Camp - 3 adults, 3 kids
Food expenditure for one week: 685 CFA Francs or $1.23

What can we do about ? Would be interested in your feedback.



Ruahines said...

Kia ora Bob,
First off, I must read this book. Second, I sit and ponder your words, your photos, and your question. What can I do?
Anything Tara and I do here seems trivial. We are trying to live more simply, buying our veges and fruit locally, starting our own garden, relying less on highly processed foods. Yet while that may address our own situation, it leaves me feeling a bit helpless looking at so much disparity. My teen age son, who can find nothing to eat in a cup board and fridge that would feed that family in Chad for weeks. Yet he is just a boy, with little realization beyond his own world for now. How can I teach him with out becoming high handed and hypocritical? How to implement better a philosophy of do what I do and not what I say?
I have so many more questions than answers. I hope your post brings some discussion and potential answers. Kia ora Bob. You are on a bit of a posting roll!

Bob McKerrow - Wayfarer said...

Kia Ora Robb, If only the half who lives would think like you we could change the world quickly. In 1970 we were young optimists who believed we could change the world. We lobbied, protested and encouraged our governments to reduce their arms expenditure by 10 % and put that into a poveryy alleviation fund. We calculated that by the year 2000 poverty would be eradicated. Those were heady days my friend. When 2000 came I was working in Bangladesh, and surrounded by some of the worst poverty in the world. Sometimes I dispair.

But you have got it right Robb, by thinking about it and doing your small bit.

You can send your boy to work with me during one of his holidays and perhaps you can come too. There are remote islands where we are doing a lot of work with communities in building water and sanitation systems, houses, livelihoods, tackling climate change, risk reduction and first aid. There is no limit.

But apart from that, write to your MP. Simple letters and building a lobby for the NZ Govt to allocate more funding for development in Asia is a positive way.

Charity begins at home, and we need to get our own houses in order such as race relations, anti-discrimination against people living with HIVAIDS. Being a good supportive and loving father and husband is a great start and I know you are that. We don't all have to work overseass as there is a lot to be done at home.

I love what I do and have good teams around me. I also enjoy life too, We need balance....Robb you are a good man and you make many people happy with your good deeds and through your blog. You get strong messages through on your blog. Goodness spreads.

That is why I like Marja, Pete, Paterika and others we blog with because we can support, provoke and stimulate each other through our postings.

Believe me, what Tara and you do is not trivial. I said earlier, goodness spreads. You are good to each other, your children, friends and community. Look at what is happening in South Africa with the victimisation against neighbouring Zimbabweans living there.
Keep striving Robb, together we can make it a better world.

Ka kite ano


Marja said...

A very hard one I struggle with sometimes. My daughter is sometimes depressed and overwelmed by what's going on. i don't have an answer for her just tell her that it is good to be aware and don't waste her food. You can only do so much. Creating awareness is one thing so i will refer people to your post.

Bob McKerrow - Wayfarer said...

Thanks Marja.

I think the advice you give to your daughter is exactly what is needed. Awareness is important and can lead to advocay. As I said to Robb, lobbying MPs can gave effect. Also reducing greenhouses gases in NZ can contribute a little to improving the global problems.

Look forward to having a cup of tea with you in July, perhaps a picnic at the Halswell quarry. Your photos are wonderful.

Have a good weekend.


Ruahines said...

Hi Bob,
Tara here. You offer a provocative topic and one I can not resist commenting on. Like Robb, there are times I become overwhelmed by the sheer magnitude of the entrenched poverty and blatant inequalities that exist. Robb will attest to me often wailing "why do we have so much and some people so little"! And it's not just overseas. It is right here in good ol Aotearoa. The latest report by the Child Poverty Action Group stated there are over 200,000 children living below the poverty line in NZ. Why, in a country that just paid out a record 9 billion dollars to its farmers, are our children bloody suffering! And as for the other side of the world suffering. The only way we voracious consumers are able to live the way we do is because half the world doesn't! To enact real change and fairness for all, we would actually (god forbid) have to go without stuff. I guess that is why I feel so helpless to do anything, as things will only change if we do, and I just can't see people relinquishing the privilege they enjoy at the expense of others. But there is one thing I can do. And that is to fight, argue and use the education I am acquiring to advocate for those who don't have a voice. As I firmly believe that with privilege comes responsibility.

Unknown said...

Hi Bob, I need to read this book too.
It is very intersting to know more about this topic.
Now I am living in Indonesia. I usually spend around IDR 300,000(US$ 35) for one week for 2 adults. People around me are easy to through foods away everyday. I do not like it.
When I was in Japan, I spend JPY 5,000(US$ 50) per day for one adult. When I was NY, I spent US$ 100 per one week for one adult because I was a pity poor grad student.
When I was in Kenya, my Kenyan friends spent US$1.20 per day. They can have just only lunch.
Poverty...one of big unsolved issues in the world.
What can we do?
I just appreciate foods, people, and eveyday life....for now.

Bob McKerrow - Wayfarer said...

Dear Tara

Pleased to make contact and to read your strong point of view. Being overwhelmed is a common feeling when you examine the world's poverty and reasoin for it.
What angers and overwhelms most of us in your words is the "sheer magnitude of the entrenched poverty and blatant inequalities that exist."

It is structural and as I say in my posting the multinational corporations and their supportive governments, have a lot to do with it. If you examine carefully where the US farm susidies go to, a large percentage goes back to multinationals. This symbiotic and discrimiatory relationship, plays against the poor. Add to it, the recent UN report which predicts food shortages will last at least ten years, shows that people and companies who formerly invested in gold, property and other commodities, are now switching to buying huge quantities of food on the commodity markets and hoarding food and pushing up prices even higher. It is a vicious cycle. Tara, channel your sense of helplessness and anger into political/humanitarian activism. MPs such as Phil Goff, Steve Maharrey (sp), Helen Clarke, Anette King just a few to name who I know who care about NZ and the world are worth lobbying and writing. Inviting authorities to speak to large groups is also important.

The most destructive group is what is loosely called, MAMU, Male, Anglo Saxon, Middle Class, University educated - they still hold the reins of pwer but India, China, Japan and Russia are slowly joining the club and bringing in huge power blocs backed by large billionaire industrialists who are some of the worst polluters. By backing Governments and power blocs, Governments close a blind eye to the way they are destroying the environment to make even more money, and contributing in a big way to global warming. And it just goes on and on.

But Tara, Maki, Robb, Marja and others out there we can make ripples which can turn into waves. I was at the UN Climate Change meeting in Bali last December and felt we and our team of Red Cross advocates, was able to persuade some of the politicians there to take a more humanitarian perspective into climate change and poverty.

Have a great weekend. I have to join the family for breakfast.


Bob McKerrow - Wayfarer said...

Dear Maki

Thanks for your comments. It is admirable you only spend "around IDR 300,000(US$ 35) for one week for 2 adults."

Changes in our lives are important to redress the imbalance of distribution, urchasing and reducing green house gases. Maki, let's talk further when you come to Jakarta or me to Medan.

Have a good weekend.


Jackamarra said...

Bob, Naomi Klein's "Shock Doctrine" is also good reading. Initially when I spied the title in the bookshop I was apprehensive, concerned I would be blasted with feminist diatribe, which permeates and paralyzes Aussie and anglo academia throughout the western world.

Surprisingly though, Klein refrained from invoking the tired feminist mantras of "men are evil perps, while women are virginal victims", to produce a highly informative, engaging and researched text on the blight of neo-con economics and predatory capitalism.

Klein frequently refers to the Chicago School of Economics, and how this single institution disgorged and unleashed many 'intellectual' predators, who have and continue to savage world economies, including Indonesia.

The Shock Doctrine is highly critical, but importantly revealing of the US ruthless 'economic' and foreign policies. It’s a wonder GW hasn't renditioned the author to GITMO as an ‘enemy combatant’.

Bob McKerrow - Wayfarer said...

Dear Jacka

Thanks for your recommendation. I love reading and will certainly get Naomi Klein's "Shock Doctrine."

It will also be good to read that not all men are evil.

All the best to you.

B ob

Jackamarra said...

On the topic of evil "white" men, Michael Moore has penned a library of mockumentaries on white men - with "Stupid White Men" his bestseller. In this pseudo feminist rant, he charges that men, and only men are responsible for global warming. hunger and the general grief plaguing humanity.

Of course what Moore, and other like-minded nincompoops overlook is that in terms of destructive, vanity and pointless consumerism i.e. animal and organic products, women outdo men many times over.

I pointed out this and other contradictions to Moore shortly after the release of "Stupid White Men" (obviously took a stupid white male to pen such blinkered garbage). Still waiting to hear back from him.

Remember Moore was feverish about the prospect of Billary Clinton winning the Democratic nomination. He wrote about it, he sung praises to her on his portal, after-all Billary personified his political correct wet dream in the form of a powerful white women!

Funny thing though, 2 months ago he came to his senses and robustly declared through his portal his renunciation and denunciation of the Billary, and support for Obama.

Bob over the years I have come to realize from both personal experience and observation that the people best qualified to discuss or 'pontificate' on oppression are those same people who have suffered and or fought oppression.

Paolo Freire (the grand Liberationist and Pedagogist) would agree on this account in that he was adamant "authentic liberation" could only be achieved through the "praxis" of activism and verbalism by those who are subjugated by oppression. In other words, the oppressors (the establishment) can not liberate the oppressed: it is logically impossible.

Its been a slow day Bob...

Bob McKerrow - Wayfarer said...

Hang on there Jacka. This is pretty heavy stuff but fascinating to read and analyse.

I chewed over very carefully what you said and I quote you "Of course what Moore, and other like-minded nincompoops overlook is that in terms of destructive, vanity and pointless consumerism i.e. animal and organic products, women outdo men many times over."

You are I assume referring to western or white women ? Mate, I am embarrassed to tell you this but my dear wife took me out for a facial and pedicure last week so we men must be catching up.

I am pleased you mentioned my old mentor Paolo Freire who in many respects, being such a liberal, often coincided with Karl Marx in his thoughts about oppression.

Jacko, let's have a beer at the best bar in Jakarta tonight, the Everest Bar and Cafe. The reason I like it as it is owned by a Nepali guy who really cares about people and the customers come from every corner of the globe and I don't feel like an evil or stupid white man.

And, let's drink to Obama's victory.

Champagne Bob

Paterika Hengreaves said...

Kia ora Bob

I have just finished reading your blog, "How the other half dies" with much sadness and helplessness in my heart. I'm compelled to say that the rich is getting richer by leaps and bounds and poor folks are forever stuck in the mud. All that progressive governments seem to be doind...paying lip-service to the social issue of "Proverty Alleviation"...evidenced by the ever rising cost of living that protects the rich; and poor folks have no armour to protect them from this onslaught of human injustice. We need to educate our people to get back to the land and grow essentail foods for our families and keep away from processed food markets that keep the rich, rich and the poor, poorer. No home should be without its backyard-garden complemented with container gardening. I have been away from the computer tending my cottage garden now that the rains have come. I find much pleasure in eating foods I have grown with my own hands. Self-help in so many ways is an excellent thing which all should embrace.

Your blogs are so engaging. Thank you very much for sharing social issues that are devastating poor folks and nations for too long. Equal sharing of the economic pie is all that is needed to address this imbalance.

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