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Poverty: A Serious Malady

I have seen the sad reality of disparity between the rich and the poor and this gap continues to widen through the years and is almost happening in all parts of the globe, particularly in underdeveloped and developing countries where people are predominantly poor. As of 2014, about 80% of the world’s population lives in countries where income differentials are widening. 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’s latest data show that about 20,000 to 25,000 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 eanestly 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 came out on my birthday  did not only delve on climate change but also on poverty.

When I briefly described the overview of UN’s Millennium Development Goals (MDG now tagged as Sustainable Development Goals or SDGs) in my earlier blog article, I was a bit skeptical and eventually I was correct in saying that the formulated MDG and the tasks to be undertaken would not be achieved by 2015 in view of the many inherent factors and problems attached to it.   While, I didn’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 MDG however  was just pretty ambitious!

Nevertheless, as my blog advocates quality of life and alleviating poverty is one, I 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. I further believe 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.  It further mentioned that 70% of the world’s population live in countries where inequality has increased since the 1980s and 1% of families own 46% of global wealth. Indeed, this is a sad reality wherein even those in power cannot or may not be able to help contain the problem.

I don’t consider myself poor and I don’t consider myself rich either. I certainly am no expert on this field but I am fortunate enough to be given the opportunity to have a decent education to make me 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. I don’t want to delve on the history and the series of events why people become poor. I don’t want to blame anyone why these faces of poverty are happening. What I would like to do now is how I can help and share in my 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 my vantage point. This is not merely based on recounts from people throughout the globe but exact graphic recollections of my actual experiences and observations on how rural and urban poor in the country, where I was born and raised,  cope with their sad condition. I have come face to face with the realities of poverty in both urban and in far flung areas. In the rural areas for example, I 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 me 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. 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. I 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. There was one time I visited a family living under the bridge located probably just few miles from the Presidential Palace. This family of five lives with the other squatters who seem to have formed a community under the bridge. They live in a shack made of scrap cardboard/carton boxes and rusty tin roof, erected on a more or less 5 sq.m. area. However, above where they stayed was a newly repaired concrete bridge and decorated by local officials with glittering lights, exactly the opposite of what was actually happening under it. This kind of scenario is a classic example of irony at its fullest. I recall the mother told me that everything is being done in their very small area. His husband and their three children eat, sleep, and do their personal needs there. Their focus everyday was on how they can feed their small children and how to survive and it was impossible to think of other needs like the health and education of their children. In fact, the older kids, about 7 to 10 yrs old helped their father look for food, scavenging or sifting through the garbage of nearby restaurants and food chains for leftovers to eat and recyclables which can be sold for a song, so to speak, to a scrap dealer. I had goose bumps while listening to her story and I 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 for instance has over 3 million people who live in slums around Metro Manila based on ADB data and this is about the same number of people living in Chicago. Based on UN’s figures, Metro Manila is considered as one of the largest cities (ranked as 15th) and populous cities (ranked as 11th) in the world with a total population of about 12 million people, although some accounts show a higher number at over 16 million. On the other hand, New York City, an industrialized and well developed city has a population of only about 8 million people, the bulk (2.7 million people) of which come from the Brooklyn area, based on a 2008 survey. The Metro Manila situation probably could be similar as in other countries having the same socio-economic hardships.

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 who belong in Forbes Top 100? Have you contributed lately to solve this problem? How about instead of attending gambling sessions, frequenting saloons and bars for drinking spree or beauty salons for facial and aesthetics purposes, or shopping all the time for unnecessary things, would you not feel happy if you share something for the poor or form a group among your family and friends, which I am doing now by the way, 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, I hope you will do your very best to do more for your country and constituents. You have been bombarded with so many complaints from your critics but nothing much has changed. Some of you out there may have stolen from Government coffers or squandered resources of an impoverished economy either thru mismanagement or “kickbacks” from implemented projects without oversight and auditing. This is an opportune time for you to renew, give back and show that you deserve to be the leader of your country. Majority of the people have still high regard in your sincerity, dedication and commitment to public service, 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, shelther, education and the like. With appropriate government policies coupled with the right attitude and contributions from all of us, I firmly believe that we would be able to help cure this serious ailment and eventually save our less fortunate brothers and sisters from the shackles of poverty and in the end build a better world for all of us.


Note: This is an updated version of a previous article.