How Do More Than a Billion People Live on a Dollar a Day?
It is hard to get exact figures on global poverty but it is widely accepted that in the world there are currently well over a billion people who live on a dollar a day or less. In fact, 80% of the planet’s population is said to survive on less than $10 a day.
Just reading the figures on global poverty it is impossible to grasp the scale of the problem. Travelling round some of the Earth’s poorest spots – Africa, Asia, South America – gives you a better idea of what life is like on a dollar a day. If you are used to a comfortable lifestyle in a developed country then it is an eye opener to see how people manage to live on so little money. So how do they do this and what kind of problems does it lead to?
Child Labour and Begging
Go to a developing country in your fancy western clothes and you can expect to be besieged by children asking for money or offering services such as carrying your luggage or selling you something. You will then take a look at your watch and wonder why they aren’t at school. Going by the latest estimates it is believed that well over 120 million children who should be attending school aren’t doing so, with more than half of that number being girls. One of the knock on effects of this is found in the statistic that, at the start of the 21st century, close to a billion people were unable to read or write. Sending the kids to school sounds simple but many families simply can’t survive without the extra income they bring in, no matter how little it might appear to be to us. Of course, tourists who don’t give them money feel bad about it and those who do so often feel bad about potentially making the problem worse by making them more dependent on this source of income.
At this point we might point out that a dollar a day must go a lot further in a poor country than in a rich one. Sure it does, but not that far. Try buying food for one person never mind for a family in any country in the world and you will find that a dollar doesn’t go very far at all. Things like milk, fresh fruit and vegetables can seem like a luxury if you only have enough for something which will let you make a weak soup or stew. This is why so many people need to take the decision to forsake basic items in their meals. This leads to poor diets which leads to underdeveloped bodies, bad teeth and a whole host of other medical issues. Over a quarter of children in the world’s poorest countries are said to be underweight or stunted due to poor nutrition.
The last point touched on one of the main reasons for poor health among people living on a dollar a day. However, when your income is so low almost anything can be a huge problem for your health. A huge percentage of the people who live on this miserly amount of money are the exact same people who don’t have access to basic sanitation facilities or adequate medical treatment. In the US the average household uses 600 litres of water a day, while many poor families living under the poverty line elsewhere spend hours of their day fetching just 20 litres to last them all day long. In this sort of environment it is no surprise to hear that 1.8 million children around the world die from diarrhoea every year.
What Can We Do?
If there were an easy solution to the problem then presumably it would have been implemented by now. There is no simple answer but the more aware we are of the issues faced by families in other parts of the planet the more we can understand how they live and see it is a problem we all need to think about. The next time you are in a poor country try to get by on a dollar for just one day and then consider how lucky you are that you will never have to do it again.