“And they die quietly in some of the poorest villages on earth, far removed from the scrutiny and the conscience of the world. Being meek and weak in life makes these dying multitudes even more invisible in death.”
According to UNICEF, 22,000 children die each year due to poverty. Around 28 percent of children in developing countries are deemed underweight or stunted. An estimated 1.1 Billion people lack access to clean water and 2.6 Billion lack basic sanitation. Over 1 billion people entered the 21st century unable to read a book or write their name. Over 3 billion people in the world live on less than $2.50 (American Dollars) a day. That is almost half of the world’s population.
According to a study, less than one per cent of what the world spends every year on weapons was needed to put every child into school by the year 2000 and yet it didn’t happen.
As the United States begins its election season, we will inevitably hear an abundance of promises. We will be told that we need to raise taxes or lower taxes, get rid of agencies, or build more. We will be promised the end of wars, and advised whether or not to give health care to all Americans. One thing we certainly will not be told, however, is how to cure the epic global pandemics of poverty and hunger.
Whose responsibility is it to cure world hunger? The International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) mandates that contracting parties ensure the Covenant to “the maximum of its available resources.” Those obligations are, among others, “the right of everyone to an adequate standard of living for himself and his family, including adequate food, clothing and housing, and to the continuous improvement of living conditions.” The problem, however, is that there is no judicial forum to enforce these provisions, and so they are essentially non-binding on the signing parties. Should there be a forum to prosecute countries for their failures to provide adequate conditions for their needy? Should nations like the United States play a bigger part in curing poverty and world hunger?
A forum that prosecutes countries for the failure to provide their needy with adequate conditions may be necessary, particularly because it imposes a clear and direct consequence for such failure (Side note: Is this not a situation calling for humanitarian intervention?). I think, however, that any forum that prosecutes countries for this failure would be hypocritical, at least on some level. Any such forum would likely be operated by an international entity that is constituted of members of different nations and frankly, no nation has been able to address this problem to an acceptable extent. At least what should be deemed acceptable. I find myself very disappointed with nations when studies such as the one provided in this post suggest that a relatively nominal reallocation of funds is all it would take to alleviate this problem. Less than 1% of the world’s weapon expenditure is needed for every child to be put in school. Not some, not many…EVERY child. That’s it.
I do think nations like the United States need to, and should, play a larger role in curing the world’s poverty and hunger needs but before attacking the issue worldwide, these nations need to demonstrate they can implement a solution within their own borders. Is it truly realistic to expect the wealthier nations to cure world poverty and hunger when there has been a lack of initiative to remedy the problem internally? It should be noted that this is an instance where the problem has to be eliminated for it to be resolved. Wealthier nations obviously have fewer people living in poverty than their poorer counterparts and this illustrates a level of progress and achievement that should be recognized, but complacency is unacceptable. Sadly, the reality remains that progress in this area is limited throughout the world, and in large part due to a lack of governmental initiative.
The issue may be approached more effectively by individuals finding more efficient ways to address it in a private capacity. Charities and volunteer organizations are the most apparent example of this, but there may be room for reformations and better efficiency. However, private institutions and efforts are limited for a variety of reasons and governmental initiative is needed.
I can understand a totalitarian regime having no regard for the impoverished. It is the fact that democratic governments, who maintain an arrogance rooted in their democracy, fail to address the problem that is an indictment on the system itself. The concept of a democracy is rooted in a representation of the people. Quite simply, I don’t think a majority of us would say our government’s initiative in addressing poverty and hunger internally, yet alone externally, is representative of that majority. I would sure hope not.
While I would like to end these issues as much as the next person, I don’t think that these methods would be very helpful. Prosecution does not seem like an effective method of curbing the world’s problems of hunger and poverty. The main reason for this is an issue of causation. There would be literally thousands of contributing factors to each country or area’s problems and very rarely would you be able to pinpoint exactly what it is. For example, the argument can be made that one of the main factors that lead to the poor sanitation and low food conditions is the level of population in an area and a main contributing factor to that is lack of power had by women to control their family size. So if you could prosecute a country for not preventing these conditions – could you prosecute them for not allowing family planning as a proximate cause of starvation?
While I find this study incredibly sad, I don’t think mandating that countries provide funding is the right way to go. First, I think it’s the responsibility of each country to look out for its own citizens before it begins giving handouts to others. Thus, before America decides to provide funding for poor countries, it needs to deal with its own poor and hungry. The U.S. is in a bind right now – a shrinking middle class and lack of jobs has created a new group of poor, hungry citizens. We need to deal with this group of people before dealing with the hungry in other countries. A completely unrelated problem with mandating that various nations provide funding to poorer countries is how that would be done. Would a nation like the U.S. be mandated to give a flat amount? I think a flat amount would be a terrible method because it doesn’t provide for years when the U.S. simply can’t afford to give whatever amount was promised. Or would the amount vary with the financial health of the U.S.? This is better, but still not perfect. I don’t think it’s right to mandate donations to anyone, even the poorest of the poor.
I think that there should definitely be some sort of international enforcement to prosecute countries who do not help to provide for the poor and needy. That being said, while I like the idea, I see a lot if difficulty in enforcing it. While it is true that such comparably small amounts could make such a difference (like your reference to how much one percent of the funds that the world spends on weapons could make a difference), I think it would be hard to measure exactly what is a fair contribution. Moreover, and I like that you mentioned this point in your analysis, I don’t know how fair or ethical it is to spend money to help people dying in some foreign country when local people are in fact dying all around us. While I applaud any sort of international effort to feed the hungry, at the same time I feel it takes the focus away from the domestic effort. Just as a brief disclaimer, I am not saying that a local life is any more valuable than one in a distant country, I am just saying that most of the time people take out their checkbooks to contribute to a international cause and then put it away thinking the job is done, but not realizing the true scope of the problem.
It is a sorrowful state of affairs when human beings throughout the world go hungry while trillions of dollars are squandered on wars waged for any reason other than self-defense (including nation-building). Undeniably, this calls for a reexamination of our priorities and motives for expenditure of money and resources.
Concern for world poverty and hunger is legitimate and noble. The suggested solution of “prosecuting countries” that don’t ensure “an adequate standard of living,” however, is misguided. That this solution is misguided is supported by both a philosophical and practical standpoint. Philosophically, one can refute the idea that everyone has a “right” to an adequate standard of living. Contrary to the ICESR, the U.S. Constitution guarantees only “the pursuit” of happiness, not happiness itself (i.e., government cannot infringe on the individual’s ability to provide a better life for himself but it also need not provide a better life).
Practically speaking, how is a government to go about providing an “adequate standard of living” for its poor? That is, what is “adequate”? Adequacy of living in Somolia probably wouldn’t be considered adequate in the U.S. Additionally, it is likely that a government-guaranteed living standard would discourage individuals from taking self-initiative to improve their living standard (e.g., “why work if I’m guaranteed a food, clothes and a roof over my head?”), which results in a less productive society, which, in turn, adversely affects everyone’s living standard. Finally, who will implement the this guarantee of adequacy and how? Is the U.S. Government – currently $13 trillion in debt – to pay for the food, clothes and shelter required to achieve an “adequate” standard of living?
I would also point out that currently the U.S. gives billions, if not trillions, in foreign aid to countries across the globe. Unfortunately, the money rarely ever reaches the impoverished people that it is intended to help.
Justin’s comment hits right to the heart of why this issue likely has no happy ending. There is no enforcing laws that are in themselves vague and ambiguous. What constitutes the “maximum of the available resources?” What is an “adequate standard of living?” These are practical issues that halt any serious attempt to regulate nation’s in providing basic humanitarian aid.
Having said that, I think we have all agreed that something more needs to be done. Somehow, some way, this world needs to help the needy. In many developing countries, it may be as simple as battling corruption, or limiting military spending. There likely is not a nation in the world who does not face the overwhelming issue of corruption. Unfortunately corruption serves only to disrupt the systems that have the potential to do the most good in providing aid the world so desperately needs.