Paying for Poverty

Recently a national daily reported a scheme in New York where a spiritual retreat is being offered at $150 for the weekend. It has operated successfully over the last few years and will soon be offered in London! Typical clientele include high earning city Bankers. Have I got you guessing? Is it a retreat in the woods or based in Long Island? Does it consist of mediation and relaxation? The answer to all of these questions is No.

NB The purpose of this article is certainly not to ridicule this activity. The retreat mentioned involves clients paying to become beggars or street residents for a weekend. In order to prepare and appear convincing participants are encouraged to not bathe for a few days, wear layers of old clothes and arrive with minimum personal funds. The event is organised in groups rather than involving sole participants. Participants have commented that they have felt a sense of gratitude when asking for money.

It was terrible to learn recently that Angola is one of Africa’s richest nations in terms of minerals, oil and numerous potential exports. However, 90% of its population are below the poverty line and struggle to find anything to eat. Awful pictures of children picking at rubbish dumps for food have been shown, this after 25 years of civil war. Some oil rich Arabic states have 20% of their population suffering below the poverty line. In India over 75% of the population suffer in sheer poverty. Last weeks news reported India’s Congress’s election result but also showed a man living under a bridge. Although most nation’s claim that they are trying to improve the situation the irony is that there is plenty of food to go round four times over – where are their published action plans. Are they common and are they co-ordinated through the United Nations? Can we be sure that protective or preventative strategies are in place. For example have selective African countries been forecasted with crop failure due to late or non-existent rains? What’s the use of a massive computer that predicts the sunshine hours if it can’t help prevent death and desecration?

Why is there such an extreme gap between developing countries and developed countries, with further poverty issues within developed countries? One of the reasons could be the way trade law / tariffs have been established. Combined with traditional trades. Its not a mystery that arms sales to questionable regimes has taken place for years together with questionable foreign policies. Alliances between countries and their sub groups have been established between political powers. The changing climate has also had an impact although so called mountains of surplus foods have been demolished in parallel to maintain pricing structures and margins. The use of child and sweat-shop labour has exploited the poor for the benefits of large multi-nationals – remember the expensive footballs being manufactured by child labour and sold for a fortune during a recent international football championship. Another example is the way in which workers are exploited for the comforts of the west, for example: poor safety standards in African greenhouses in order to achieve cheap flower bunches at your local super market.

We need to ask what we can do about it. Paying to experience poverty maybe an activity that some people feel happy to indulge in. It could be their way of gaining a sense of empathy. Sympathy with the world poverty situation is only a start. Instead, and I’ve said this before, we need to collectively campaign for the removal of debt, use technology to predict weather disasters, establish a think tank to redevelop economies, suggest the sharing of some markets, ensure that the media do not hide the grief that people are suffering and actively encourage multi-nationals not to be greedy.

These ideas can only be implemented if we all believe in fair trade and exercise our ability as consumers to use the power of the currency in our pocket and campaign to change the polices that our members of parliament represent. We need to believe that mankind has a sense of duty rather than a sense of exploitation and survival of the fittest.

Categories: 2004

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