Global Sustainability Newsletter

Issue 5 - January 2008

POVERTY - A GREAT ILLNESS OF THIS CIVILISATION

In 99% cases, poverty in the world is caused by an institutional and systemic abuse of the individual. And because it is imbedded in the design of the system (whether purposeful or accidental), most people living a reasonably comfortable life, especially here, in the Western civilisation, choose to think that they cannot do anything about it. At the same time, in other regions of the planet, more than 60% of the entire world population, suffers today from poverty, malnutrition, lack of proper sanitation facilities and subsequent plethora of life threatening diseases, which are often fatal. Waterborne infections account for 80% of the world's infectious illnesses; daily 10,000 to 20,000 children die of preventable water diseases.

This horrendous statistics falls on the dead ears of people who have accepted the status quo and go on with their reasonably comfortable lives or lives in luxury. Many a time Westerners can catch themselves speculating how to spend their money in a more imaginative, more extravagant, and more "fashionable" way. They obviously want to be happy like anyone of us. Unfortunately, it does not occur to them, that if they decided to share their wealth with the hungry and the abused, with the people who have no chance nor strength to overcome their own dire situation, they could potentially find happiness. And this is because happiness does not lie in the acquisition of goods, or in just being wealthy (although wealth affords people the ability of making choices and obviously improves the quality of their life).

True happiness and satisfaction come to one's life from the spiritual dimension of being - not from the material possessions realm. True happiness comes to us when we give to another. It is a quiet satisfaction we feel when we fulfilled our duty, when we contributed to societal welfare, when we helped others. Parents know this feeling, social benefactors know this feeling, great humanists, doctors, social workers and many others know this feeling. People who take their sojourn on this planet seriously and responsibly know the feeling of true happiness.

The assertion of spiritual origin of true happiness is not a recent discovery - it has been experienced by many individuals throughout the ages. Books, poems and songs have been written about it. In the past people were even beatified for their humanitarian work. But clearly one does not need to be a saint to contribute to the welfare of humanity. One only needs to understand that the value of their own life is the same as the value of a poor wretched person, who is living on the other side of the welfare divide, and who suffers unspeakable depravations. This poor wretched man, woman or child will think about securing food for the next day and every following day of their life. There is nothing more important (with the exclusion of personal security in war torn areas) than not to feel hungry. Why? Because the experience of a prolonged hunger is actually very painful, it is physically painful. Let us imagine all the infants, toddlers, five year old children dying of starvation. Not only are they in a physical pain day in, day out, but they are in a much more elevated pain than an adult would be in their situation. And this is because they are so small and sensitive. Hungry babies first cry of hunger, then after sometime they stop crying - they start dying.

The poor of the world are the unsung heroes of this civilisation. We do not notice them; they exist in the background, they are not too vocal, they die in millions (i.e. 365 days X 10,000 children/day = 3,650,000 children per year) and there is no memorial built for them.

Danuta Nowak