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Wednesday, 15 October 2008

Blog Action Day 2008: Poverty

I typed "starving artist" into Google and got 632,000 hits; "starving poet" got me another 3,500. When I was a kid I was frequently 'starving' and would beg my parents for food only to be reminded that I had no idea what 'starving' meant. And they were right. I had no idea. And this was a long time before I became a poet and, to my shame, I have never had to go hungry for my art unlike many before me.

As a writer I value words and yet at the same time, without thinking very much about it, I also devalue them. I told my mum I was 'starving' but I meant I was hungry. And, if I'm being honest, I probably wasn't even that hungry. I wasn't a greedy child and I certainly was never a fat child, but I had gotten used to – been allowed to get used to – a certain lifestyle. My parents came from a generation where it was an important thing to be seen feeding your family and, kudos to Mum and Dad, they never had cause to hang their heads in shame. Even when I'd flown the coop when they turned up to visit they brought food.

Not every child has it so good. And it's easy to point the finger at the parents but then you look at where you're pointing and your finger curls up and hides in the palm of your hand.

All my life I've been presented with images of starving black children in countries I'd never heard of the week before. Biafra was the first one I remember around about 1967 and I remember the playground gags too that got recycled over the years depending on which African country was in need that year. And that's what it felt like. Whose turn is it now?

The thing is, now I'm older I realise that the famines mostly had little to do with a lack of resources but a complete and total mismanagement of those resources. The world has plenty of money. It's just spending it on the wrong things. Millions gets spent on aid to Africa but then they pay millions in interest payments on their bank loans, that is, when they're not off paying for freedom fighters.

Now, I don't know about you, but I've never had a head for economics but here is a little film entitled The Luckiest Nut in the World, which, in 8 minutes, explains the whole thing … with songs.

If that has caught your imagination then there is an interesting site – maybe sobering would be a better word – called Global Issues from which I extracted the following two tables:

Global Priority$U.S. Billions
Cosmetics in the United States8
Ice cream in Europe11
Perfumes in Europe and the United States12
Pet foods in Europe and the United States17
Business entertainment in Japan35
Cigarettes in Europe50
Alcoholic drinks in Europe105
Narcotics drugs in the world400
Military spending in the world780

And compare that to what was estimated as additional costs to achieve universal access to basic social services in all developing countries:

Global Priority$U.S. Billions
Basic education for all6
Water and sanitation for all9
Reproductive health for all women12
Basic health and nutrition13

Now, any one of those 8 year-olds who were with me in the schoolyard cracking jokes comparing matchstick with Biafrans could do the sums and we weren't the brightest bunch.

Are we all stupid or something? Er, yeah. I'm sure the IMF's answer would be, "Well, things are never as simple as that…" But they are. They so are.

The Blog Action Day website has this to say:

What Can One Person Do?

Poverty is not only a pressing issue, it is a complex one. It's easy to think that there isn’t much an individual can do. Fortunately this isn’t the case at all. With activities ranging from advocacy and professional contribution to charity and financing, there are in fact many ways that we can act.

You can find a range of resources about poverty, about what the average person can do as well as dozens of post suggestions and ideas in our Resources section.

Here's the link.

Don't be stupid. Have a look.


Dick said...

'Are we all stupid or something? Er, yeah. I'm sure the IMF's answer would be, "Well, things are never as simple as that…" But they are. They so are.' Dead right. When I was a noisy activist in my teens, my dad used to tell me that when I was his age I'd see that the overall picture was much more complex than it appeared. I'm older now than he was then and from where I'm standing it looks crystal clear.

Jim Murdoch said...

Yes, Dick, I remember watching a wee film back in 2005 called The Girl in the Café where an ordinary girl in the street gets – by a contrived plot it has to be said – to sit in on the G8 Summit where she gets to ask the simple questions all these clever, clever politicians weren't able to answer. It may not have been the greatest thing Richard Curtis ever penned but it didn't miss its mark. I was annoyed at the time to find the critics all going on about the writing and pretty much missing the point of the play as if to say there was no point because nothing is ever going to change.

Ken Armstrong said...

It was Biafra in my day too. Years later, I remember reading a short biog of Frederick Forsythe which said he had covered the Biafra War as a journalist and I remember thinking, 'there was a war? they never told us that part'

Well done Jim.

Dave King said...

You're right abouut the way we devalue words. My parents (and grandparents, with whom we lived) also had this thing about feeding the family - which would be seen as over-feeding these days - and were always apologising for the poverty of war-time rations. I began to think we must all be close to starving, if not actually starving. Then I saw the pictures coming out of Belsen and the other camps. Need I say more? Except that things don't seem to have improved. There are just more people starving from agreater range of causes these days.

Jim Murdoch said...

I am exactly the same, Ken - what war? We really were so ignorant back then, so self-absorbed.

And, Dave, yeah, I'm on a diet at the moment – nothing heavy I just need to lose a stone and I'm half way there – and it's just struck me that it has been so long since I've ever felt hungry or anything close to hungry. It is amazing how easily we let out bodies dictate to us. The fact is I'm eating enough, more than enough (I'm only losing a pound a week), and yet I hate being bound by it and I know when my next mean is going to be.

The thing about Belsen was that what was happening there was understandable – it was the intent of the captors to do that. In a lot of these countries where people are starving it's not as a result of deliberate action, rather deliberate inaction. Somehow that is worse.

Conda V. Douglas said...

Thanks, Jim, for the post--I found "Blog Action Day 2008" posted elsewhere too--although to my dismay not on any of my usual U.S.A. sites. Granted, I don't go to hundreds of blogs--but it worries me all the same. Ever since 9/11, it seems we've gotten more and more isolated. I'm one of the ones changing that...

Jim Murdoch said...

I know what you mean, Conda. There is so much going on that no one can keep up with it all. The real question is: Is raising public consciousness enough? I did like the wee video I have to say. I've never understood economics and that helped a lot.

Susan Sonnen said...

I appreciate this post, Jim.

Jim Murdoch said...

Thank you, Susan, I'm glad you found the post helpful.

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