Did you know that 25,000 people die every day from hunger and poverty? Jesus in the gospels said: ‘The poor you will always have with you….” This is not an excuse not to help them. I completely identify with the Millennium Development Goals to end poverty – and even when we have done it, there will still be people who are relatively poor compared to us. We can still help others. We will always be able to do this. The writer of ‘The Sceptic’s Guide to Global Poverty’ in his introduction says:
It takes not just money to defeat poverty, it takes moral will and personal sacrifice
According to UNICEF, more than 10 million children die every year from preventable causes, which is more than 30,000 children every day (the link gives you the book I have taken statistics from). These causes include pneumonia, malaria and AIDS as well as malnutrition, lack of access to clean water, diarrhea and lack of sanitation. Diarrhea caused by dirty water and bad sanitation is the second biggest child killer worldwide. 3,000 children died of diarrhea in 2014 just in Ghana alone. By the time a child living in extreme poverty is 5, they will have had on average 10 acute attacks of diarrhea. In particular, diarrhea in the first six months of a child’s life irreparably stunts growth. Personally I have been lucky enough so far to only experience one acute attack, on a mission trip to Ecuador, as an adult – and that was appalling enough with a toilet on hand and proper sanitation.
Not having access to a decent toilet is bad enough for an able-bodied person, but what about the elderly and disabled – how do they live their life in dignity? Not only that, but girls and women can even be vulnerable to attack. This is not any way for people to live, and yet millions are forced to do this every day, particularly in India and Africa.
If that weren’t enough, there are some 246 million children worldwide who are engaged in child labour, and some 300,000 child soldiers worldwide. Nearly 3 million people a year die from AIDS, and every 30 seconds, a child in Africa dies of malaria. One of the major goals of charity organisations is to reduce the number of deaths of under 5 year-olds worldwide. 1.4 billion people in the world lack access to clean water. This is not one of my best things in all the world.
Clean water is something I believe every human has a right to have access to. And clean water, and the charity WaterAid (as an example) is my sixth best thing. I first became engaged properly in the importance of water ecologically and for health when I visited the Eden Project, down in Cornwall. There is a fairly large and very quickly redundant literature on water issues globally, for example Fred Pearce, author of When the Rivers Run Dry reviews three recent books here.
Globally, we have a finite supply of clean water. As humans we do various things to the planet that endanger those supplies, and of course have knock-on effects for others. In developing countries where families are relying on the food that they can grow or sell, water becomes a ticket to life and a better future. There are many countries in Africa where women and children have to walk miles each day simply to get a bucket of clean water – and many use dirty or polluted water because that is their only option. Also, access to decent toilets is a problem in many countries, and this is a major reason why teenage girls will not attend school during their periods. Not only this, but often children spend so much time collecting water (two long trips per day) that they do not get time to attend school, and so miss out on an education which could transform their lives.
WaterAid focuses on changing these dreadful statistics, and is an excellent charity that answers all the typical objections about charities spending money in the wrong places, and not actually helping the people they’re supposed to help. They are one of the most switched-on global charities today working in 36 countries who have made a significant impact since it was founded in 1981.
The standard measure of poverty is that you live on 2 dollars a day – extreme poverty is less than a dollar a day. By that measure, I am rich. While it exists, it is important to keep poverty as a live issue in our daily lives. Probably, most individuals who can hold down a job in the UK (or other countries) could afford to sponsor a child with brilliant charities such as Compassion or World Vision. You then know that you are directly helping one child to focus on their health, education and future. As Mother Teresa said: If you can’t feed a hundred people, feed one person. The knock-on effect on a community of helping just one person to secure their future is massive. Also, it really brings home the plight of people in other parts of the world.
We chose to sponsor a little girl in Haiti with Compassion after an appeal that I heard at a festival last year. Haiti was on my mind because of the Haiti earthquake back in 2010 which killed 160,000 people, and also because I knew a couple who have adopted here in England some orphans from that earthquake. But shortly after we began supporting her, Hurricane Matthew hit that country. As you can imagine, it gave a real focus to our prayers as reports came in on the news of many having lost their homes. Hundreds died. We were relieved to discover that our sponsored child was okay, but this doesn’t make it easier for those who had been affected. When you actively know people in poverty, it becomes your problem, rather than someone else’s. There is more that we want to do for our sponsored child – we have written to her, but it would be my dream to visit her in Haiti and see first-hand how she is doing, perhaps when she is a little older. Compassion sponsors children in 25 different countries and argue that they focus on individual children, rather than the circumstances (like WaterAid) because:
We’ve discovered that changed circumstances rarely change people’s lives, while changed people inevitably change their circumstances.
To see these Millennium Development Goals achieved that the United Nations has targeted by 2030, it needs more than simply individuals giving small amounts that they can afford. It is quite possible to criticise large organisations such as WaterAid, for the amount they pay their chief executives, for their marketing (which I think is some of the best I have seen). But what is brilliant about a charity such as WaterAid, apart from targeting right where it will make the biggest difference, is that no one can argue with the aims of their charity (check out their website) and they attract many companies’ support. They run a project called ‘Voices on the Ground’ where they film the impact that the clean water is making in different places, and one worker from this project says: “When I explain to people that WaterAid raises funds from thousands of individual supporters and companies who are concerned about their welfare it almost confuses them to know that people from so far away care about others they have never met or seen.”
Let’s have a few more people living in extreme poverty confused that they have been helped. Every time I remember the shocking statistics on world poverty I realise that I could be doing a little more to help. I am delighted that our church is regularly supporting WaterAid.