“We poverty junkies spend a lot of time examining the fruits and the roots,” says Mark Weber at PovertyCure, “But what of the soil?” Tyler Cowen also recently noted that economists don’t talk nearly enough about soil, despite their contributing to some of the biggest problems in the entire world.
Facing a corrupt and repressive government, about 36,000 Eritreans fled last year into the eastern Sudan where they faced harsh weather and the threat of kidnapping. Human trafficking has become a serious threat for these Eritrean refugees. Bedouin people-trafficking gangs find weary travelers then kidnap, torture, and often kill them. The gangs do this hoping to extract ransom from their victims’ families.
Despite the dangers that Eritreans face, many still choose to cross into Sudan, looking for freedom. According to the BBC, Eritrea has one of the most corrupt governments; it “has been accused of repression and of hindering the development of democracy.”
The BBC recently published a piece about Philemon Semere, an Eritrean refugee and a victim of human trafficking. He crossed into Eastern Sudan and was immediately captured by one of these human trafficking gangs. He was thrown with several others into the back of a truck and transported North almost 2,000 miles to a house in the Sinai peninsula. He said this about his ordeal: “Words are not enough to say how good I’m doing right now. I’m so relieved after everything I went through. Death was very near to me and at one point all hope was gone.” Philemon was frequently forced to call his family members and beg for the ransom of $33,000. While they were tortured often, it was always significantly worse when the victims were on the phone with family members. Philemon said that the first time he called his mother, “She heard my screams and couldn’t stop crying. I was crying too. We both just cried and cried until we had no tears left.” He explained that relatives were more likely to pay the ransoms if they could hear the victims “screaming and crying in pain.”
Philemon was held captive with 19 other Eritreans, but more than half died in captivity. Philemon was released after his poverty-stricken family scraped together $13,200, and two other captives paid $10,000 on his behalf. Philemon made it to Cairo along with hundreds of others who underwent to the same horrors as he did. When he thinking of his ordeal and what he plans to do in the future, Philemon said, “God brought me out of the deepest darkness and only he knows what lies ahead for me now.”
For more information, please see Joel Millman’s piece in the Wall Street Journal, Ruthless Kidnapping Rings Reach From Desert Sands to U.S. Cities.
A recent report by the United Nations states that out of the world’s seven billion people, six billion have a mobile phone, but only 4.5 billion have a modern toilet. In India, there are almost 900 million cell phone users, but nearly 70 percent of the population doesn’t have access to “proper sanitation.” Jan Eliasson, the UN Deputy Secretary General has called this a “‘silent disaster’ that reflects the extreme poverty and huge inequalities in world today.”
Despite the lack of sanitation, most people are able to afford a mobile phone with a wide range available for [$15] or less and the price of calls reducing from [15c] a minute to [3c] a minute in the last decade.
This report focuses on the negative: the lack of sanitation for those in abject poverty, but it fails to note the extraordinary fact that people living in poverty have access to a device that was, until recently, a luxury item for wealthy Americans. Tim Worstall, a contributor on Forbes.com, addresses this report in a recent article:
It’s possible to be a little cynical about this phones versus thrones number though. Actual flush toilets aren’t in fact the problem. What is the provision of water to flush them and a sewage system to flush them into. Both of which are largely government provided. While mobile phone systems are largely private company provided. Whether you want to call it the lust for profit or the greater efficiency of the private sector, it won’t surprise the more right leaning of us that phones do have a greater market reach than toilets.
Andreas Widmer, president of The Carpenter’s Fund in Switzerland, has spoken a great deal about small businesses, aid, and investing in Africa. In an interview with PovertyCure, he explains causes of poverty: (more…)
The African diaspora—nearly 140 million Africans live abroad—is such a major source of foreign income that it now outstrips foreign aid sent by Western donors. The money these expatriates send back home is collectively worth far more than the development donations sent by Western financial institutions, says Adams Bodomo:
The exact amount of these remittances is unknown because not all of it is sent through official banking channels. But the official volume to the continent has gradually increased over the years, from $11 billion in 2000 to $60 billion in 2012, according to the World Bank. As a proportion of gross domestic product (GDP), remittances in Africa range from next-to-nothing to almost 5%.
Worldwide remittances to developing countries were $351 billion in 2011, far exceeding the $129 billion in official development assistance (ODA), according to the World Bank.
The remittances paid by Africans living abroad also rival official aid to the continent. Total diaspora contributions to Africa in 2010 stood at $51.8 billion compared to the roughly $43 billion in ODA, according to the latest figures from the World Bank.
Bodomo offers several compelling reasons why remittances are a better source of development than foreign aid:
In the German newsmagazine Spiegel, Kenyan economics expert James Shikwati says that foreign aid to Africa is doing more harm than good:
SPIEGEL: Mr. Shikwati, the G8 summit at Gleneagles is about to beef up the development aid for Africa…
Shikwati: … for God’s sake, please just stop.
SPIEGEL: Stop? The industrialized nations of the West want to eliminate hunger and poverty.
Shikwati: Such intentions have been damaging our continent for the past 40 years. If the industrial nations really want to help the Africans, they should finally terminate this awful aid. The countries that have collected the most development aid are also the ones that are in the worst shape. Despite the billions that have poured in to Africa, the continent remains poor.
SPIEGEL: Do you have an explanation for this paradox?
Shikwati: Huge bureaucracies are financed (with the aid money), corruption and complacency are promoted, Africans are taught to be beggars and not to be independent. In addition, development aid weakens the local markets everywhere and dampens the spirit of entrepreneurship that we so desperately need. As absurd as it may sound: Development aid is one of the reasons for Africa’s problems. If the West were to cancel these payments, normal Africans wouldn’t even notice. Only the functionaries would be hard hit. Which is why they maintain that the world would stop turning without this development aid.
Jim Shaw at the Catholic Herald has written a provocative piece that suggests one of the best ways to fight poverty is to support Catholic religious orders. He writes about his experiences in Africa: the lack of rule of law, the petty corruption that eats away at the poor, how lack of infrastructure obstructs progress for farmers and other businesses. The density of these issues seem insurmountable.
The sheer intractability of these problems should serve as a warning against utopian solutions to world poverty. It may also remind us of the true basis of solidarity between human beings, which is spiritual and personal, not technical or economic. As Pope Benedict XVI has written, we cannot help the poor if we regard their problems in exclusively material terms. Lack of bread and abuse of power are real and must be addressed, but they arise in a human – that is, a spiritual and moral – context.
If we try to fix material problems in isolation, Pope Benedict argues, without recognising the “ordering of goods” which places God at the centre of human life, we will end up replicating the dystopian nightmare of Marxism or the relativistic nihilism of the contemporary West.
Shaw then goes on to suggest that one group of people has remained a fixed and steady influence for progress against poverty: religious orders.
Religious orders’ vows of poverty protect them from the tendency to make a good living out of helping others in distress. Most fundamentally, the fact that their work arises out of, and is constantly renewed by the sacramental life of the Church, means that the poor are not seen as a problem to be solved or an opportunity to be exploited. From the point of view of Catholics living in the West, the missionary orders offer virtually unlimited opportunities to participate in their work.
This piece is cross-posted at PovertyCure.org.