Ending Poverty in Our Time

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

(cross posted from Sojourners)

Hearing about the injustice and suffering in our world can be overwhelming. The problems seem so insurmountable. Is it really possible to make a difference?

Well, here's some good news. We already are making a big difference.
Consider these statistics cited by Dr. Scott Todd from Live58:
"We used to say that 40,000 children die each day from preventable causes. In the 1990s, that number dropped to 33,000 per day. By 2008, it dropped again to 24,000. Now it is down to 21,000. That means that in a generation we cut that number in half.

1.4 billion people live in extreme poverty today. That's a staggering amount, but let's put those numbers in perspective: In 1981 52% of the world lived in extreme poverty. Today it's 26%. Again, that means we have cut the number in half, and we did it in one generation."
Now, if you are anything like me then your reaction to poverty is a mixture of compassion and helplessness. If you're reading the Sojourners blog, then I assume that you already care about the least like I do, and that you know how big the problems are. I often find myself asking: What can I do? What can anyone do? We've heard the bleak statistics before. It's not news that there is a problem. The news is that there is actually hope for real change.

Jesus said "you will always have the poor among you." He was quoting from the Torah, "You will always have the poor among you. Therefore I command you to be openhanded toward your brothers and toward the poor and needy in your land" (Deut 15:11). It's true that there will always be people in need around us, and the clear point of Jesus is that we need to therefore live in generosity and compassion. However, there are many definitions of what poverty means. Specifically here the above statistics deal with what is known as extreme poverty which the World Bank defined as living on less that $1.50 a day (this assumes you are paying US prices for those goods). In other words, it means that you can barely afford to get water and maybe some rice to eat, and is therefore associated with a host of other problems including malnutrition and disease. It means that the most vulnerable among us--little kids--die of hunger and sickness.

That is a huge and devastating problem that experts say we can actually eliminate in the near future. So while we will probably always have people who are struggling around us (whom we should of course care for), this does not mean that we always need to have children dying of preventable diseases. That we can stop. In fact, as the above statistics show, we are already moving in that direction. As Scott Todd explains, there are many reasons for this unprecedented progress,
"Over 600 million people gained access to safe drinking water since 1990. This, along with an increased awareness of the nutrition in breast milk and the use of oral rehydration therapy, explain why water-borne diseases are no longer the leading cause of death for children under five. We are simply executing the practical strategies that work.

Vaccinations are another example of a practical, life-saving strategy. 733,000 children died of measles in 2000; but, that number dropped by 2008 to 164,000–a 78% reduction in only eight years. Simply using the vaccines that we’ve had for decades is saving hundreds of thousands of children every year."
As you would expect, lots of folks are joining in. 189 Heads of State and governments have committed to the UN Millennium Declaration. This is deeply significant because it means the involvement of governments, and the folks who hold the world's purse strings, including the World Bank, the IMF, and increasingly, the membership of the WTO. The One Campaign is another prominent example, involving some of the biggest humanitarian organizations in the world including Bread for the World, CARE, Oxfam, and World Vision. A more recent group is Live58, also comprised of several big players like Compassion International, International Justice Mission (IJM), and others. The specific aim of Live58 is to help mobilize folks like you and me to get involved, to live out the "true fast" of compassion described in Isaiah 58.

We have an amazing opportunity before us. What was at one time unimaginable is now within reach. It is possible, but it will only happen if we all get involved. If we use our intelligence, our money and our influence to make a difference. It will only happen if we are willing to make some sacrifices in the name of compassion. So check out the video below, and then head over to Live 58 to see some ways you can get involved.

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At 12:58 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

With phrases like "among you" and "in your land" in the OT command to care for the poor, and considering that Jesus was addressing the descendants of the people this commandment was originally issued to, I have a question.

How do you reconcile this racially and ethnically exclusive commandment in the OT to the worldwide efforts of the Church today? While I am often accused of cold-heartedness, please understand that what I say here is not based out of lack of compassion, but of sincere asking and wanting-to-know.

Is it possible that by working to sustain populations in areas that are unsustainable (such as a population of 4,000,000 in X country that can naturally support no more than 40,000), we are actually increasing suffering? Without sounding too Malthusian, do you think that this exhortation was meant to be applied locally? It must be admitted that the Israelites were anything but compassionate to anyone outside of their ethnicity.

I'd be curious to hear your thoughts, as I admire your views on the OT and how it is (or is not) relevant to a Christian.


At 8:34 AM, Anonymous Derek said...

I think the really simple answer is that the NT makes it clear that salvation is to be extended to Gentiles, that is to all nations/Peoples. So we can discuss how best to "love our neighbor as ourself" but there is no question who our neighbor Includes. It includes everyone, especially the least.

At 6:38 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Derek,

concerning data about poverty it's woth to follow the activities of Hans Rosling. See/ Enjoy this talk:



At 5:31 PM, Anonymous Derek said...

Thanks for sharing this Peter!

At 10:01 AM, Blogger sanjy1219 said...

I agree that there is progress being made. But the MDGs are not the solution. You can't possibly have One over-arching, panacea that is to be implemented globally in so many different countries with different social contexts and with different cultures, politics, economics, and so forth. The appeal of Ending Poverty with this one radical, big decision is great, and the ambition is applause-worthy. But we need to allocate our resources and our money to provide individualized humanitarian intervention depending on area, region, climate, agriculture, etc. It, even intuitively, does not make any sense to implement norms that work here in the industrialized, modernized, developed U.S. to rural communities in other countries, where people's livelihood depend on things like crops and livestock. Imposing our western ideas of free markets, progress, and industrialization is border-line colonialism and will backfire on us in these countries. Then who is held accountable?
I am a very big humanitarian and there has been a lot of research done to critique the MDGs and I urge people to read up on it.

At 11:17 PM, Anonymous Derek said...

Yes, I certainly agree that there needs to be local application of these things applied in context. Honestly, I would have thought that the MDG would have working in that way, rather than being a one-size-fits-all approach, but I guess I don't know the details. I do know that Compassion works that way, partnering with locals, and Live58 is an outgrowth from them, so they might be an example of what you are advocating.


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