Some Sobering Statistics On World's Poor

"The news of this global income disparities was first heard by this scribe in the land of plenty where the income level of most common ordinary people have risen very fast in the last ten years or so."

"Tell me what you eat, and I will tell you what you are."

- Anthelme Brillat-Savarin

IT is an age-old question: Is our world's rich having a feast while the poor experiencing a famine? It is hardly a conundrum. If you live in any of the developed nations such as America, Germany, France, Switzerland, and more nations like them, then one might say the world is having a feast. If one however looks at the other spectrum of world's economy, i.e., the least-developed country (LDC), then one may see an acute shortage of foodstuffs in many such countries. While it will be quite unwise to characterize the perennial shortage of food in many LDCs as a near famine situation, it is fair to state that income disparities between the richer and poorer nations on earth have created a very queasy situation that does not bode well for a brave new world that we are facing in the dawn of this new century.

Even though I am not an economist by training, I read newspaper articles every once in a while dealing with the economics of indigence. Professor Amartya Sen of Trinity College, Cambridge, England, had made this non-glamorous branch of economics a fashionable one ever since he received the Nobel Prize in Economics in 1998. This article deals in some sobering statistics regarding world's unfair income distribution. Our world is fast approaching a state where two neighbors can exist side-by-side in a state that could be aptly describes as "Feast and Famine" situation. While the industrial West is reaping all the benefits from genetic engineering to broad bandwidth distribution of data for e-commerce, the same could not be said about the LDCs of the world.

The news of this global income disparities was first heard by this scribe in the land of plenty where the income level of most common ordinary people have risen very fast in the last ten years or so. A similar rise in income level had also taken place in Western European nations where the economy is anything but robust. People all over the affluent First World countries are witnessing an amazing prosperity these days. Call it a 'globalization dividend' or whatever, but the truth to the matter is without any impending threat of inflation the western economies are now enjoying the great economic Nirvana of the past one hundred years. Because of this astounding income growth amongst common people in America, people are fleeing the congested central city area and are heading towards the suburb. These suburban folks are rapidly becoming a commuting communities and therefore everyone listens to car radio to get the societal news including news of traffic flow and weather report. Interestingly enough the same car radio is increasingly becoming a conduit for receiving relevant information on society, nation, and the global world that we live in. In one of those commuting session lasting about an hour, this scribe heard one bit of startling information, which got my attention in a hurry. The newscaster relayed the news that a world body had announced rather depressing news that day regarding some income inequalities that exist in the present-day world.

Throughout the world, about one-third people are surviving below one measly dollar a day! And half the people on earth are making do with $ 2.00 a day. Thus, one could extrapolate these statistics to say that a great number of people on earth are living in utter poverty. This sobering statistics would surely numb anyone's mind when one comes to think that our world is producing billionaires at an accelerated rate than ever. Some of the new extraordinarily rich people as reported in the press in the year 2000 were in theirs thirties and forties! The ever-blossoming financial market of stocks in USA and elsewhere in Western Europe in the last decade had produced a fresh crop of millionaires whose number could be very high. In the last two years' economic downturn though, the net assets of those booming billionaires may have shrunk. But even then, these newcomers to billionaire's club are extraordinarily rich by any measure.

In the late 1990s, the new growth area of 'dotcom' industry also engendered thousands of new millionaires overnight when their companies had undergone an initial public offering (IPO) in NASDAQ or a similar market in Europe and Japan. Nonetheless, many of those new millionaires have since then joined the ranks of ordinary folks because of the bubble burst. The speculative bubble had finally burst in the year 2001 and the bloodletting is still continuing in many stock markets of the West.

The sad part is that amidst this newly gotten wealth (read Easy Moneymaking), there exists a state of indigence and despondency scattered allover the globe. Of course, the lion share of impoverishness does exist in the Third World countries, which are mostly in southern hemisphere, the perennial poverty-ridden countries in Africa, Latin America. One could lump some of the republics from Asian continent into this expanding list of nations that are mired in poverty for quite some time. The sleepy Asian tigers have waked up in the eighties in the pacific ream after a long slumber. But since the booming days in stock market round the globe had taken a long hiatus, these nations also had contracted the contagion. No one is writing in the financial press about the booming economy in Thailand, the Philippines, etc., anymore. Since 9-11 terrorist attacks in America, the world economy had slumped precipitously. Consequently, many of the LDCs on earth that used to supply readymade garments to the western nations are now suffering from an economic malaise. There is no sign in the horizon that economy in the West will resurge anytime soon. Hard days have indeed fallen on countries such as Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, etc., who used to make products to satiate the demands of the western nations. In one sentence, South Asian nations along with other Asian nations are in the dire straits of economic despair as I pen this short essay.

The world population had increased from 5 billion in 1985 to about 6 billion in the beginning of 1999. Thus, it took about 14 years to add one extra billion people into our globe. A vast majority of this new population was added into the least-developed countries of the world. With an estimated annual growth rate of 1.5%, it is safe to assume that our world is home to 6.3 billion people at this time. Of 6.3 billion people, an astounded 2.1 billion people are living with an expense of below $ 1 per day per son. And this is not all. An estimated 3.15 billion people are spending each $ 2 per day for their survival. Those folks who are spending $ 1 per day or below are living practically from hand to mouth. This group of people most certainly falls under the category of indigent human being. The people in the next group, i.e., those who are spending about $ 2 per day are also getting by marginally albeit theirs living condition are slightly better than the indigent folks. People in this group are not affluent by any stretch of imagination. This then leaves us with roughly about 1 billion people those whose living condition is much better than the estimated 5.25 billion who are in the lower rung of the economic scale. This sobering statistics is most certainly pointing towards a rather skewed distribution of income, which is neither acceptable nor is it healthy.

Under this bleak economic scenario, poverty alleviation is a tall order of the day. The World Bank, IMF, many other global NGOs are spending countless man/woman hours to figure out the ways to improve the income of poorest of the poor of this world. The progress in this endeavor however falls short. The income disparity between the rich and the poor had widened throughout the 1990s. And that happened not because of more goods and services were generated by world's economy but the rising values of the equity in the stock market. Now that the bubbles have burst, the gap between the income of rich and poor may have narrowed a little. But still then, the world is putting more people into the indigent category than it is uplifting income of the poor people. For a sustainable worldwide economic expansion, what we need now is not a robust growth in the stock market because this only benefits the folks who are in the upper 10-15% income bracket. What we really need is a productivity enhancement in world's agricultural sector including livestock and fisheries. This economic development will improve the earning capacity of the poorest of the poor. On the contrary, if we see more growth in the developed West, then the richer industrialized nation will reap the benefit from this economic expansion. The indigents of the Third World nations will then be left in the cold to fend against the exiguous income a constipated economy could garner for them.

Under this dire economic backdrop, i.e., a threat of worldwide recession and implosion of economic activity, how could one figure out ways to narrow the income disparity that now exists between the rich and poor nation. The job is not that easy considering the fact that our world has entered a new phase of global unrest resulting from 9-11 terrorist attacks against America. The threat of an impending war against Iraq by America is clouding the situation a bit more. Unfortunately, the world's focus is now more on the war against terrorismū the one launched by President George W. Bush.

These days, the West is oblivious to the deteriorating economic condition of the world's indigents. What this world needs now is not a war against an imaginary enemy of the West but a war against poverty. If the West is determined to fight this war, then I see a true new world order emerging out the ashes of despair and hopelessness that is marring the present world. That should be the focus of the West. This scribe hopes that American policymakers understand this for fact and act accordingly. Any war - no matter big or small it is -- puts the blue planet of ours into awry and economic disorder from which it will be difficult to pull ourselves. The humanity had experienced it twice in the last century. Therefore, instead of putting this world into a chaotic state, won't it be better to declare a war against poverty? The West can surely help the LDCs to win this war. Let us narrow the income distribution between the rich and poor nation because that is the root cause of all our present-day trouble the world is facing. Let the good sense prevail.

(Dr. A.H. Jaffor Ullah, writes from New Orleans, USA., The Bangladesh Observer, 07. 10. 2002)

Top of the page
Back to Poor suffers
Back to Women Project