Here they are, the five myths that allow political inaction to flourish and inevitably lead to 24,000 children dying each day from poverty. Stay tuned to the end, because the solution to this preventable mess is surprisingly simple.
1. Global poverty is too big to address: There's no correlation between the size of a problem and the ease with which it can be solved. Over the past 20 years, the number of the world's chronically undernourished has been reduced by 50 percent. More children are in school today than at anytime in history. Diseases like smallpox and polio that once tormented millions of the world's poorest are becoming distant memories. So what would it cost to achieve the once impossible dream of ending world hunger? The U.N. Food and Agricultural Organization, estimates that $30 billion a year is needed to end world hunger. Compare that to the United States current foreign policy focus... War. This year alone, Congress and White House will allocate $693 billion toward military spending. The United States is the only country in history that could end world hunger and still have by far the most expensive military on the planet.
2. We have poverty here, we shouldn't be addressing global poverty: The United States has a foreign policy and we have a domestic policy. Addressing poverty at home and abroad are by no means competing interests. Beyond the injustice of millions of people suffering in preventable misery, the United States has a strategic need to improve conditions for those surviving on less than $1 a day. The poorest countries on earth are also the most war-prone. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and 50 retired Generals have all called on U.S. leadership to address global poverty in order to better protect the United States. The Bush National Security Strategy summarized the poverty-reduction imperative as, "The events of September 11, 2001, taught us that weak states, like Afghanistan, can pose as great a danger to our national interests as strong states. Poverty does not make poor people into terrorists and murderers. Yet poverty, weak institutions, and corruption can make weak states vulnerable to terrorist networks and drug cartels within their borders." Another realization that has emerged in the recent years is the economic need for addressing global poverty. As people transition from barely surviving into becoming bona fide consumers, new markets are created for U.S. goods and products. From Europe to Asia, most of the United States top-trading partners were once recipients of U.S. aid. Providing poor people with tools to lift themselves out of poverty isn't charity, it's an investment.
3. Starvation helps reduce overpopulation: As poverty drops in regions, so do birthrates. Women with access to family planning have fewer children when they know their babies will survive into adulthood. There is no greater cure for overpopulation than keeping kids alive.
4. The U.S. does enough already: Former President Jimmy Carter made headlines by calling the U.S. government the stingiest nation on earth when it comes to helping the world's poor. His frustration is shared by nearly all of us involved in global poverty-reduction. More frustrating is the fact that on average Americans estimate 20 percent of the Federal Budget goes to foreign aid. The reality is just .2% of the United States Gross National Income goes to improving living condition for the world's poor. The super-star nations in standing up for the little guy (Denmark, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway and Sweden) all invest .7% or more of their GNI to improving conditions in impoverished nations. The United States did a good thing in 2000 when it hosted the largest gathering of world leaders ever assembled and joined them in committing to the U.N. Millennium Development Goals, a global effort to cut poverty in half by 2015. Now the United States needs to utilize its platform as the world's agenda-setter and lead by example.
5. We shouldn't bother, corruption is rampant in poor countries: Today, the United States carefully monitors aid spending and has even set up the Millennium Challenge Account, a program that requires countries address corruption and transparency issues before they receive assistance. More to the point, even in lawless regions with rampant corruption there are numerous strategies in place for ensuring assistance reaches people in need. You can't steal knowledge and education, and thugs have shown little interest in taking malaria-fighting bed nets, birthing kits and hundreds of other poverty fighters. Corruption does exist, but there's no shortage of corruption-proof programs that we can and should be funding.
How you can help.
When I launched The Borgen Project in 2003, the number-one goal was to create an influential organization that would have access to Congress, and the ability to lobby for the world's poor. We accomplished that surprisingly quickly, but I soon realized that the name recognition and influence that got us the big meetings was no match for a dozen voters calling their congressional leader in favor of poverty-reduction legislation. My goal of creating a political powerhouse for the world's poor has turned into a mission to motivate 12 people in all 435 congressional districts to call their congressional leaders once a week in support of poverty-reduction (http://www.borgenproject.org/povertybillslegislation). Congressional offices tally every issue constituents contact them about and send the information to the congressional leader in a weekly report. (You can view an actual report here: http://www.borgenproject.org/contactcongress). Anyone making a 30-second phone call to their congressional leaders office can get a poverty-reduction bill on the report and noticed by the political leader. Mobilize friends and family to do likewise and you've created a mini movement that will likely lead your political leader cosponsoring the bill. Congress and the White House have the power to improve the lives of millions of people, and you've got the power to make them do just that. If you're not doing it, they're not doing it.
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