Two packs of gum. A cup of coffee at Starbucks. Three postage stamps. Less than one gallon of gas. Two bars of soap. What do all of these things have in common? They can all be purchased with $1.90 or less. (4) For just under 10% of the world population, this is also the minuscule amount that an individual must forge a living on each day.
October 17, 2017 marks the twenty-fifth anniversary of the United Nations’ International Day for the Eradication of Poverty, an annual effort to bring awareness to the plight of many in developing countries living in extreme poverty.
It is necessary (though challenging) to get past the numbers in order to comprehend what living on less than two dollars a day looks like. For Peter Mumo it meant a scant meal of boiled maize and beans once a day when he was a child growing up in Kenya. Mumo suffered from Malaria in addition to malnutrition. As a result, a large chunk of his family’s income was funneled into paying for his hospital bills. (1)
For Sham Bai in India, extreme poverty means raising a family alone. Her late husband, Jethuram, unable to access health care after being bit by a rabid dog, died from what in other countries is a treatable disease. More people die of dog bites in India than any other nation on earth. At least 30,000 people perish each year as a result of the disease. (2)
Extreme poverty for Shedrack at Saving Grace School means living a childhood without smiles. The reason? Malnutrition led to rickets, a softening of the bones, which resulted in knock-knee and missing front teeth. Embarrassed by his missing teeth, Shedrack would not smile. Unable to easily walk or run from the knock-knee, Shedrack was unable to play with the other children.
Extreme poverty exists in developed nations like the US too. Unbeknownst to many, 1.5 million Americans are living on less than $2 per day. Many sell their blood plasma to earn a little extra cash for necessities. An individual can earn up to $30 per donation and is able to give up to two times per week. (3) For Elva May Hicks in the Mississippi Delta, extreme poverty means trading in one necessity for another. By trading in her food stamps, she is able to make 50 cents on the dollar in order to keep her heat and lights turned on. (3)
The U.N.continues to set goals and work towards decreasing the number living in abject conditions. In 2000 the organization established its Millennium Development Goals which included halving extreme poverty by 2015. The good news - not only did they accomplish this goal, they met it five years early. The bad news - the easing of poverty was regionally uneven. In Africa, one in two still live in extreme poverty, more than four times greater than the world average. (5)
Next, the UN enacted its Sustainable Development Goals in 2015. This time the goal is to end extreme poverty everywhere by 2030. Much more ambitious than its predecessor, global income inequality and climate change also add to the challenge. (6)
At Saving Grace School, Shedrack is a success story. His mother’s diligence saving money led to surgery which corrected his legs. The meals provided by the school have led to better health for Shedrack including the growth of his front teeth. Today Shedrack smiles, runs and laughs with the other children.
The UN continues to work to ensure more successes like Shedrack’s. As you stop to fill your car with a tank of gas today or make a trip to the grocery store, take a moment to consider how far $1.90 will - or won’t - get you.