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Poverty: A Serious Malady

One of the days of November is dedicated for the World Day of the Poor, a day established by the Catholic Church through Pope Francis in his apostolic letter “Misericordia et misera” issued on November 20, 2016. The Holy Father specifically scheduled the celebration on the 33rd Sunday of Ordinary Time, which for this Year 2020, the said day falls on the 15th of November. Why are we celebrating this event? What’s the relevance?

We have seen the sad reality of disparity between the rich and the poor which continues to widen through the years. Poverty is almost happening in all parts of the globe, particularly in underdeveloped and developing countries where people are predominantly poor. While the world has made remarkable strides in terms of economic growth and development, more than 700 million people still live in extreme poverty. Based on PovcalNet data, as shown in a World Bank’s report, about 430 million are living under $5.00 per day as of 2018 (see matrix below).

However, the 430 million excludes India and Nigeria’s poverty situation for lack of available information for these countries as of the particular survey period. It was noted that India and Nigeria are the countries where the most extreme poor were found in recent years. With estimated data from India and Nigeria, those living in extreme poverty would reached about 700 million people throughout the globe, as can be gleaned from one of UNICEF’s latest report.

These poor people are those who are impoverished and often lack the food, sanitation, shelter, health care and education they need to survive and thrive. Across the world, hundreds of millions of children are multidimensionally poor, meaning they lack basic necessities such as nutrition or clean water, among others. About 150 million additional children are plunged into poverty due to COVID-19 pandemic. As reported, this pandemic is “pushing tens of millions of persons back into extreme poverty, undoing years of progress”. This bleak scenario becomes even worse when victims, particularly the children, of the disaster of poverty can no longer open their eyes and would have no other choice but to wait for their time to die of hunger, to die of lack or absence of health and medical care, and other facets of poverty. UNICEF reported that thousands of children die each day due to poverty and these are mostly happening silently in the poorest villages on earth. Indeed, this is a sad reality wherein even those in power cannot or may not be able to help contain or lessen the widening gap between the two social classes either because of selfishness and greed in the guise of corrupt and uncaring people who may not want to end poverty.

In hindsight, poverty is something complicated characterized by a plethora of moving ways and styles, a fundamental and critical issue which deserves some grave consideration by all of us. Some say, it doesn’t take or require a rocket scientist to understand and analyze the problem. However, poverty is like a serious illness that has been there for centuries and decades and could not be eradicated even if attended to by experts or the who’s who in economics or even with the recent discoveries of health and science and new state of the art technologies.

Poverty is such a serious condition that even Pope Francis himself is earnestly requesting all Catholics and its hierarchy to go out and aggressively campaign against this malady, which is also an advocacy mutual to large humanitarian organization such as the United Nations. The Holy Father encyclical, Laudato Si’ (which incidentally came out on the same day of our special day in our life) did not only delve on climate change but also on poverty. In his latest homily on the Day of the Poor, Pope Francis advised us not to forget the poor as they serve as the “center of the Gospel”. He further stated that “The poor guarantee us an eternal income and even now they help us become rich in love. For the worst kind of poverty needing to be combatted is our poverty of love.” Remember the works of mercy, which are sourced from our Lord Jesus Christ teachings for us to feed the hungry, to give drink to the thirsty, and so on?

When My Useful Tips.com (MUTC) briefly described the overview of UN’s Sustainable Development Goals or SDGs in its earlier blog article, we are quite a bit skeptical on the formulated SDG and the tasks to be undertaken on whether or not the goal would be achieved 10 years from now or by 2030 in view of the many inherent factors and problems attached to it, unless big-time stakeholders will take appropriate action now. Note that UN’s SDG envisions to eradicate extreme poverty for all people everywhere, currently measured as people living on less than $1.25 a day by 2030. While, MUTC doesn’t doubt the wisdom and the expertise of the world leaders and the superheroes appointed by the UN to facilitate the project when they committed to and accepted the said grand and bold targets, the SDG however is just pretty ambitious!

Nevertheless, as MUTC advocates quality of life and alleviating poverty, we do firmly believe that this particular SDG (Goal No.1) can be attained and a big change can happen only if the respective Governments and big ticket corporations have political will which can provide political direction for this cause. Governments around the world must act now to build an economy that values what truly matters to society, that works for all and not just for the few. MUTC further believes that we can get on with this and ultimately overcome poverty, only if each one of us, the luckier ones, will sincerely unite and provide our share for this worthy undertaking. What is being required from all of us is a simple cooperation and willingness to make a paradigm shift, not only in terms of economic variables but also in ourselves, our attitude towards life, and our moral and social responsibility and concern for the impoverished.

Oxfam data showed that the wealth of the 1% richest people in the world amounts to $110tn (£60.88tn), or 65 times as much as the poorest half of the world. Oxfam data further cites that the worlds billionaires have more than twice as much wealth as 6.9 billion people. “Those in the very top of the economic pyramid sees trillions of dollars of wealth in the hands of a very small group of people, predominantly men, whose fortune and power grow exponentially”. Indeed, this is a sad reality wherein even those in power cannot or may not be able to help contain the problem.

We don’t consider ourselves poor and we don’t consider ourselves rich either. We certainly are no expert on this field but we are fortunate enough to be given the opportunity to have a decent education to make us relate and understand the people’s miserable state, people with no access to basic needs in life: food, shelter, clothing, education, health, livelihood and the like. This is where all of us can unite and it is may be the right time for us to extend help to our neighbors with no or scarce resources. We don’t want to delve on the history and the series of events why people become poor. We don’t want to blame anyone why these faces of poverty are happening. What we would like to do now is how we can help and share in our most humble way, realize the dreams of our brothers and sisters who were not lucky enough to experience at least even a piece of the good things in life.

The topic on poverty is absolutely heart wrenching, especially from our vantage point. This is not merely based on recounts from people throughout the globe but exact graphic recollections of our actual experiences and observations on how rural and urban poor in the country, where we came from, cope with their sad condition. We have come face to face with the realities of poverty in both urban and in far flung areas. In the rural areas for example, we have seen boys and girls walking on barefoot under the scorching heat of the sun with big rattan baskets or a sackcloth on their backs filled with local produce, apparently helping their parents who till the soil of a landlord, to liquefy the said produce into cash. It really pained us to see those small kids forced to help their parents to earn for a living and being denied the right to go to school and being exposed to health hazards because of economic deprivation. Another story is that of a man and his neighbor carrying on foot the former’s sick pregnant wife in a hammock–like carrier to the nearest health center located lakes and plains away from their place and only to find out after reaching the place that his wife has already expired due to absence of immediate medical attention. In other countries (Sub-Saharan Africa) especially where gender equality is an issue, we can see poor women fetching waters (on a 40-pound water can) from wells located far from their place, carrying them on their shoulders, taking long walks, for their entire family to drink. This is just one of the genuine tragic stories and misery plights that do happen and being experienced by some of our less fortunate brothers primarily due to faulty economic policies, i.e., lack of government support on health and maternal care and inefficiency of support services, particularly in the remotest towns and villages.

On the other hand, the face of poverty in urban and metropolitan areas are sometimes depicted by so-called impoverished informal city dwellers and their condition may even be worse than those in the rural areas. As all of us may know, the urban poor are mostly composed of migrants from the rural areas who have moved in to try their luck in cities. These are homeless people proliferating citywide with no permanent addresses and were left with no choice but to live under bridges, along railroad tracks and most of the times in so-called “smoky mountains” or smoking garbage dump site, so to speak. We had the chance to observe how these people try to cope with this kind of a desolate lifestyle and try to make do the little that they have in order to get by. We knew from that moment that there are many other families suffering the same plight, families who got used to a slum lifestyle scavenging food for survival.

On micro level, the Philippines’ poverty rate declined from 21.9% in 2018 to to 19.8% in 2020 and this is projected to decrease to 18.7% in 2021 per World Bank data. About 3 million people live in slums around Metro Manila based on ADB data and this is roughly the same number of people living in one of the states in the U.S.

For many of us who are fortunate to have an affluent lifestyle, who have the luxury of buying nonessential things, who have been given the chance to have steady decent jobs and sufficient income, would it be hard for us to spare a piece of bread, so to speak, to these people who live on less than $1 a day? Can we afford to be blind not to see the unmasked faces of poverty in poor countries in Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean and Africa? How can we help? How can some of us receiving huge bonuses or decent salaries from our respective work and realizing substantial gains from our businesses help alleviate poverty in the poorest of the poor nations? Our extra money spent on luxuries could help feed so many starving children throughout the globe. How about the 1% richest people in the world? How about the Filipino billionaires listed in Forbes Top 100? Have you contributed lately to solve this problem? Would you not feel happy if you share something for the poor or form a group among your family and friends, for something more valuable, not only in the eyes of man but also in the eyes of God? There’s happiness in helping the poor and that’s the best gift that you’ll receive after helping.

For policy makers out there and government authorities in power, we hope you will do your very best to do more for your country and constituents. Some of you out there may have stolen from Government coffers or squandered resources of an impoverished economy either through mismanagement or “kickbacks” from implemented projects without oversight and auditing. This is an opportune time for you to give back to your country particularly in improving people’s lives.

Finally, the beauty of the world where we live is that it has vast and rich natural resources to provide food for everyone, to provide clean water, shelter, education and the like. With appropriate government policies coupled with the right attitude and contributions from all of us, we do believe that we would be able to help cure this serious ailment, fight inequality and beat poverty for good, by saving our less fortunate brothers and sisters from the shackles of poverty and in the end build a better world for all of us.

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