Rashid A Mughal
ACCORDING to a World Bank Report, Poverty is the biggest challenge facing the world as despite collective efforts of UN and affected countries, the picture gets grimmer and grimmer. At least 80% of humanity lives on less than $10 a day. More than 80 percent of the world’s population lives in countries wherein come differentials are widening. The poorest 40 percent of the world’s population accounts for 5 percent of global income. The richest 20 percent accounts for three quarters of world income. According to UNICEF, 22,000 children die each day due to poverty. And they “die quietly in some of the poorest villages on earth, far removed from the scrutiny and the conscience of the world. Being meek and weak in life makes these dying multitudes even more invisible in death.” Around 28 per cent of all children in developing countries are estimated to be underweight or stunted. The two regions that account for the bulk of the deficit are South Asia and subSaharan Africa.
If current trends continue, the Millennium Development Goals target of halving the proportion of underweight children will be missed by 30 million children, largely because of slow progress in Southern Asia and subSaharan Africa. Based on enrollment data, about 72 million children of primary school age in the developing world were not in school in 2005; 57 per cent of them were girls. And these are regarded as optimistic numbers. Nearly a billion people entered the 21st century unable to read a book or sign their names. Less than one per cent of what the world spent every year on weapons was needed to put every child into school by the year 2000 and yet it didn’t happen. Infectious diseases continue to blight the lives of the poor across the world. An estimated 40 million people are living with HIV/AIDS, with 3 million deaths in 2004. Every year there are 350–500 million cases of malaria, with 1 million fatalities: Africa accounts for 90 percent of malarial deaths and African children account for over 80 percent of malaria victims worldwide. Rural areas account for three in every four people living on less than US$1 aday and a similar share of the world population suffering from malnutrition. However, urbanization is not synonymous with human progress. Urban slum growth is outpacing urban growth by a wide margin. Approximately half the world’s population now live in cities and towns. In 2005, one out of three urban dwellers (approximately 1 billion people) was living in slum conditions.
In developing countries some 2.5 billion people are forced to rely on biomass —fuelwood, charcoal and animal dung—to meet their energy needs for cooking. In sub Saharan Africa, over 80 percent of the population depends on traditional biomass for cooking, as do over half of the populations of India and China. Indoor air pollution resulting from the use of solid fuels [by poorer segments of society] is a major killer. It claims the lives of 1.5 million people each year, more than half of them below the age of five: that is 4000 deaths a day. To put this number in context, it exceeds total deaths from malaria and rivals the number of deaths from tuberculosis. In 2005, the wealthiest 20% of the world accounted for 76.6% of total private consumption. The poorest fifth just 1.5%:
The GDP (Gross Domestic Product) of the 41 Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (567 million people) is less than the wealth of the world’s 7 richest people combined. World gross domestic product (world population approximately 6.5 billion) in 2006 was $48.2 trillion in 2006. The world’s wealthiest countries (approximately 1 billion people) accounted for $36.6 trillion dollars (76%). The world’s billionaires — just 497 people (approximately 0.000008% of the world’s population) — were worth $3.5 trillion (over 7% of world GDP). Low income countries (2.4 billion people) accounted for just $1.6 trillion of GDP (3.3%) Middle income countries (3 billion people) made up the rest of GDP at just over $10 trillion (20.7%).The world’s low income countries (2.4 billion people) account for just 2.4% of world exports The total wealth of the top 8.3 million people around the world “rose 8.2 percent to $30.8 trillion in 2004, giving them control of nearly a quarter of the world’s financial assets.” In other words, about 0.13% of the world’s population controlled 25% of the world’s financial assets in 2004. A conservative estimate for 2010 finds that at least a third of all private financial wealth, and nearly half of all offshore wealth, is now owned by world’s richest 91,000 people – just 0.001% of the world’s population.
The next 51 percent of all wealth is owned by the next 8.4 million — just 0.14% of the world’s population. Almost all of it has managed to avoid all income and estate taxes, either by the countries where it has been invested and or where it comes from For every $1 in aid a developing country receives, over $25 is spent on debt repayment. 51 percent of the world’s 100 hundred wealthiest bodies are corporations. The wealthiest nation on Earth has the widest gap between rich and poor of any industrialized nation. The poorer the country, the more likely it is that debt repayments are being extracted directly from people who neither contracted the loans nor received any of the money. In 1960, the 20% of the world’s people in the richest countries had 30 times the income of the poorest 20% — in 1997, 74 times as much. “Approximately 790 million people in the developing world are still chronically undernourished, almost two thirds of whom reside in Asia and the Pacific.”
— The writer is former DG (Emigration) and consultant ILO, IOM.