Recession Equalizing Child Poverty

Mention the topic of poverty it’s not countries like the UK and the USA that first come to mind. It’s the sad hungry children dealing with the famine in Somalia or the children living in fear in huts in the Republic of Congo as hoarding groups terrorize villages. I think about the over 4.9 million poor children working for a pittance in Bangladesh or Cape Verde where as much as 14 percent of the population is said to be ultra poor…not poor…ultra poor…and many are children.

Where does the UK and the USA fit into such a grim picture? Before answering that question, first get rid of any stereotypes you may hold on to about childhood poverty. The poor children are white, black and Asian and all ethnicities. Some of the poor families even have an income, but it’s not nearly enough to pay living expenses.

To answer the question about the UK and the USA, you only need to look at the statistics. In the UK, one out of three children lives in poverty. The government and foundations were making tremendous strides in reducing the number of poor children but mostly in workless families. Then the recession hit and the working families faced unemployment and rising prices and they are joining the ranks of the workless. Unfortunately, austerity cuts do not leave enough public money to address the growing child poverty rates.

Currently, the UK Institute for Fiscal Studies estimates that between 2012-13 and 2013-14, absolute numbers of children sliding into poverty will be 100,000. If austerity measures are fully implemented and maintained, child poverty will grow by 200,000 in 2012-13 and by 300,000 in 2013-14. What is largely to blame? The answer is: The recession.

In the USA, a national study was released this week by the Annie E. Case Foundation. It reports that child poverty increased by 20 percent in the years between 2000 to 2009 and there are 14.7 million children living in poverty. One out of every five children is poor in the USA. An increase in poverty in 38 states over the last decade offset gains made in reducing child poverty levels before the year 2000.  What is largely to blame? The answer is: The recession.

Some people claim that you can’t compare poverty in Somalia to poverty in the UK or the USA. They say that only owning the clothes on your back cannot be compared to living in a country with so many social services. Yet in the richer countries, children continue to slide into poverty and hunger increases meaning social services are not reaching everyone as they should.

Here’s a fact: Hunger in the UK child’s stomach hurts as much as hunger in the stomach of the Somalian child. Here’s another fact: Lack of good nutrition for UK and US children will cause the same health conditions and disease as lack of nutrition for Somalian children.  The recession is equalizing poverty between the rich countries and the poorest of the poor countries.

No child should go to bed hungry at night. So…I look at the starving Somalian children and I see every child no matter where that child lives.

Why Wait for the Babies to Starve?

Eleven million people need food assistance in the Horn of Africa. The situation seems surreal while sitting at the computer reading the information on my computer screen while snacking on food at will. It’s difficult to imagine so many people experiencing such basic hunger and nutrition deprivation. It’s not hunger that is uncomfortable like most of us feel in between meals. It is gnawing hunger that distends infant bellies and eyeballs and turns men and women into walking skeletons.

Staring at the images of starving children, ramshackle huts made out of debris, and outreached hands at food distribution centres, it seemed odd that you don’t see mothers crying as they talk about their children who died on the walk to the camps or died while waiting for medical help. Then it hit me…they don’t cry because death is something starving people live with on a daily basis. Death is a part of life for these mothers.

Here is where the world can find hope though – hope that extends far beyond the Somalia borders. The organisations providing aid in the region represent a union of nonprofits, governments, international committees, religious groups and churches, medical corps and so many others. Mercy Corps, Red Cross, Doctors Without Borders, Save the Children, International Rescue Committee, American Jewish World Service, Catholic Relief Services, UN Refugee Agency and so many more are providing food, medical assistance, potable water, blankets, mattresses, soap and tents.

Thinking of the distended bellies of hungry children and the massive worldwide aid flowing into Somalia, you can’t help but wonder why it takes 11 million hungry people to evoke a worldwide unified response.

The European Union at the United Nations has just announced it is spending an additional 175 million euros on Somaliland development including infrastructure improvements, education and food security. The Commissioner for Development, Andris Piebalgs, said that the famine in Somalia is causing the current immediate humanitarian crisis, but it is not the root cause of an embedded crisis. The root causes have created a protracted crisis and not an immediate one. Why did it take famine to get the world’s attention when this was a crisis that has been developing for years? Why wait for the babies to starve in a drought before tackling the “deeper structural problems”?

The Somalia crisis is a perfect example of why there is a movement among youth and young adults to address world issues as a unified voice rather than as a representative of a country. It’s precisely why forums like this one exist.