Not since World War II have more human beings been at risk from disease and starvation than at this very moment. On March 10, Stephen O’Brien, undersecretary general of the United Nations for humanitarian affairs, informed the Security Council that 20 million people in three African countries—Nigeria, Somalia, and South Sudan—as well as in Yemen were likely to die if not provided with emergency food and medical aid. “We are at a critical point in history,” he declared. “Already at the beginning of the year we are facing the largest humanitarian crisis since the creation of the UN.” Without coordinated international action, he added, “people will simply starve to death [or] suffer and die from disease.”
Tag Archives: Poverty
Conosco da venticinque anni due persone – due stranieri, due anziani ormai – che per tutto questo tempo hanno vissuto per strada a Roma, spesso dormendo al freddo o sotto la pioggia, vicino alla stazione, in un parcheggio, in una macchina abbandonata, bevendo alcolici scadenti ogni giorno, ammalandosi di ogni genere di malattia della pelle, campando di elemosina. Dalla settimana scorsa non più: uno è morto due giorni fa, l’altro da poco ha preso per la prima volta una stanza in affitto.Quando ho saputo della morte di quest’uomo avevo appena letto il decreto sicurezza emanato dal governo, quello che recita all’inizio:
By Amy Goodman and Denis MoynihanDemocracy NowThe world is facing the most serious humanitarian catastrophe since the end of World War II. Twenty million people are at risk of starving to death in Yemen, Somalia, Nigeria and South Sudan.
Edward Said was no tree-hugger. Descended from traders, artisans and professionals, he once described himself as ‘an extreme case of an urban Palestinian whose relationship to the land is basically metaphorical’.＊ In After the Last Sky, his meditation on the photographs of Jean Mohr, he explored the most intimate aspects of Palestinian lives, from hospitality to sports to home décor. The tiniest detail – the placing of a picture frame, the defiant posture of a child – provoked a torrent of insight from Said. Yet when confronted with images of Palestinian farmers – tending their flocks, working the fields – the specificity suddenly evaporated. Which crops were being cultivated? What was the state of the soil? The availability of water? Nothing was forthcoming. ‘I continue to perceive a population of poor, suffering, occasionally colourful peasants, unchanging and collective,’ Said confessed. This perception was ‘mythic’, he acknowledged – yet it remained.
The ideological and physical hold of American imperial power, buttressed by the utopian ideology of neoliberalism and global capitalism, is unraveling. Most, including many of those at the heart of the American empire, recognize that every promise made by the proponents of neoliberalism is a lie. Global wealth, rather than being spread equitably, as neoliberal proponents promised, has been funneled upward into the hands of a rapacious, oligarchic elite, creating vast economic inequality. The working poor, whose unions and rights have been taken from them and whose wages have stagnated or declined over the past 40 years, have been thrust into chronic poverty and underemployment, making their lives one long, stress-ridden emergency. The middle class is evaporating. Cities that once manufactured products and offered factory jobs are boarded up-wastelands. Prisons are overflowing. Corporations have orchestrated the destruction of trade barriers, allowing them to stash $2.1 trillion in profits in overseas banks to avoid paying taxes. And the neoliberal order, despite its promise to build and spread democracy, has hollowed out democratic systems to turn them into corporate leviathans.
David Hogue isn’t sure that he should tell me his name. He sits in a back office in the shelter where he has lived for the past 18 months, hands folded neatly in his lap. It isn’t that he doesn’t want to talk. He tells me about how he’s had trouble finding work. He tells me about how he’s bounced between homes for years. He tells me about how his brother dropped him off here the day after New Year’s.But to identify himself as homeless – this is new.
Early in the Tahrir Square revolution, a group of retired Egyptian generals sat poolside at Cairo’s Gezira Club and worried about whether the country’s ruling elite could survive a popular uprising. It was February 2011, a week before President Hosni Mubarak was toppled. Millions of freshly politicized Egyptians had already taken to the streets. And yet, some of these career security men were unfazed.“The only thing we really need to worry about is a revolution of the hungry,” said one, a retired Air Force general. “That would be the end of us.”As it turned out, it took less than four years for Egypt’s dictatorship to reconstitute itself, crushing the hope for real change among the people. In no small part, the regime’s resilience was due to its firm grasp of bread politics. The ruler who controls the main staples of life — bread and fuel — often controls everything else, too.
I met Matt Wage in 2009 when he took my Practical Ethics class at Princeton University. In the readings relating to global poverty and what we ought to be doing about it, he found an estimate of how much it costs to save the life of one of the millions of children who die each year from diseases that we can prevent or cure. This led him to calculate how many lives he could save, over his lifetime, assuming he earned an average income and donated 10 percent of it to a highly effective organization, such as one providing families with bed nets to prevent malaria, a major killer of children. He discovered that he could, with that level of donation, save about one hundred lives. He thought to himself, “Suppose you see a burning building, and you run through the flames and kick a door open, and let one hundred people out. That would be the greatest moment in your life. And I could do as much good as that!”
One evening last January, gusts of icy wind and rain rollicked down Oxford Street in the West End of London, causing passers-by to seek refuge in brightly lit department stores. I, however, ducked into an inconspicuous doorway opposite BHS, entering a world far removed from the shoppers’ paradise outside. The door led to Regent Hall, Oxford Street’s only church. This was an ice rink until William Booth, the founder of the Salvation Army, converted it into a place of worship in 1882. The large, balconied auditorium was empty and dark, but there was activity outside the back entrance. As many as 30 homeless men, whom Booth would have described as “the least, the last and the lost”, were waiting for a Salvation Army drop-in centre to open.
They were jobless, destitute rough sleepers who spend the nights in doorways or on buses, overcoated and woolly-hatted in futile defiance of the cold, their few belongings crammed into bin bags or old backpacks. Among them were alcoholics, drug addicts, the physically sick and mentally disturbed. A few barely spoke English. Occasionally former soldiers turn up here, suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, or defeated by unregimented life. “Some cases really get to you, especially when there’s very little you can do,” said Heidi Soljava-Duprat, the cheerful Finn who runs the centre. “It’s sad that we’re in 2015 and the problems are still the same as in Booth’s time.”
One day in October 2013, Enrico Letta, the then prime minister of Italy, stood in front of 302 coffins lined up inside a ventilated room on the island of Lampedusa. They contained the bodies of those who had perished at sea, in the biggest migrant disaster Europe had known at that point.Some of the coffins were very small: they contained the bodies of children. The smell of death hung in the air. There was complete silence, except for the creaking sound of the air conditioning. It was a moment of deep reckoning. Letta suddenly realised that Europe’s indifference, and its powerlessness, had created a situation where thousands of human lives were put at risk. For Letta, that day marked the starting point of Mare Nostrum, an operation Italy launched to search and rescue migrants attempting the perilous crossing from Africa to Italy.