The first Millennium Development Goal is to half between 1990 and 2015 the proportion of people whose income is less than $1.00 a day. This MDG target has already been met, but there is still 1.2 billion of our family living in extreme poverty.
Extreme poverty rates continue to fall in every developing region of the world. China leads the way with the extreme poverty rates there dropping from 60 per cent in 1990 to 16 per cent in 2005 and down to 12 per cent in 2010.
Poverty remains widespread in sub-Saharan Africa and Southeast Asia, although real progress can be seen in Southeast Asia. The drop in extreme poverty rates in Southern Asia has fallen by an average of a percentage point every year. The extreme poverty rate was 51 per cent in 1990. Now, 20 years later it has dropped to 30 per cent.
The extreme poverty rates in sub-Saharan Africa by contrast has fallen only 8 percentage points during the past two decades. In fact, sub-Saharan Africa is the only region in the world that had a steady rise in the number of people living in extreme poverty. In 1990 the number of people in sub-Saharan Africa living in extreme poverty was 290 million. In 2010 that number had increased to 414 million. This number accounts for more than a third of all the destitute people in the world.
Abject poverty is found in areas where poor health and the lack of education keep people from productive work. These are areas where there is bad governance, corruption and depleted natural resources. Conflict and corruption discourage private investment.
We can continue reducing the proportion of our family living in extreme poverty. But for this to happen the international community must take the next steps in combating poverty at every level.
What side are you on? There is no middle.
Archbishop Desmond Tutu put it quite plainly. He stated it both forcefully and succinctly.
“If you are neutral in a situation of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has his foot on the tail of a mouse, and you say you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality.”
And this is really at the heart of the matter, isn’t it? Where do we stand? What side are we on when it comes to the issue of justice for all?
We live in a world unbelievably blessed, a world with enough food for every one of our human family. Justice demands that all of us have access to those life-sustaining resources. The fact that over a billion people on the planet live in extreme poverty without access to sufficient food is morally unacceptable.
Knowing that we live in a world where injustice holds a billion of our family hostage to hunger demands action. And that demand for action brings us back to that original question. What side are we on?
We can say we are neutral if we want. But, as the good Archbishop has pointed out, that clearly places us with those who are the oppressors. That’s not where I want to be. We have to make that elephant move.
I am on the side of the poor and hungry. There’s enough food for all of us. Isn’t it time that we learn to share? Isn’t it time that we start living more faithfully, and actually start practicing a lifestyle more reflective of God’s love and care for all of creation?
Lent is just around the corner. I, for one, think that will be a perfect time to take some positive steps toward living more justly. Maybe if I deny myself just a little I will have a little more I can share with those who need it far more than I do. At least then I can demonstrate a little more clearly that I am trying to get that damned elephant to move his foot.