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It Can Be Solved
When hearing these facts about poverty in the developing world, many people feel deep sorrow but conclude that there is nothing we can do. The scale of poverty is immense and we seem powerless to stop it.
Such despair is understandable, but the facts tell a very different story. While poverty is indeed both extreme and widespread, it is easy to forget just how many people there are in the developed world and how rich we are together. Let's start with a simple question: how much additional money per year would be needed to meet the most basic needs of those in poverty? According to official estimates from the United Nations Development Program:1
|Basic education for all||$6 billion|
|Water and sanitation for all||$9 billion|
|Basic health and nutrition||$13 billion|
What do these numbers mean? A billion dollars sounds like a lot, but on the world scale it is quite small. There are 300 million people in the United States alone and so a billion dollars is just over three dollars per American citizen. To really see how small these amounts are, let's look at how much the developed world spends on various luxuries each year:
UNDP, Human Development Report 1998, p. 37.
|Cosmetics (in the USA)||$8 billion|
|Ice cream (in Europe)||$11 billion|
|Perfumes (in Europe and USA)||$13 billion|
|Pet food (in Europe and USA)||$17 billion|
|Cigarettes (in Europe)||$50 billion|
|Narcotic drugs (in the world)||$400 billion|
|Military spending (in the world)||$780 billion|
These figures speak for themselves. They show that there is enough money in the richer nations to easily meet the most basic needs of the world's poor without making any real impact on our quality of life.
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