Posted: Wed May 03, 2017 6:47 pm Post subject: POVERTY ERADICATION
Why the war on poverty is about to get harder
The world has been remarkably successful at eliminating poverty, but progress is slowing
IN THE past few decades something amazing has happened. The share and the number of extremely poor people in the world (on the current definition, people who consume less than $1.90 a day at purchasing-power parity) has plunged. This is hugely welcome. People who live on less than $1.90 a day are very poor indeed—poor, in fact, even by the standards of the world’s poorest countries. So it is regrettable that the steep decline in poverty is unlikely to continue. Extreme poverty will probably not fall as quickly in the next few years as it has done for the past few decades. Why?
The World Bank, which tracks poverty, estimates that 1.9bn people were extremely poor in 1981. In that year, the poor accounted for 42% of the world’s population. In 2013, by contrast, only 767m people were poor. Because the world’s population has grown so much in the interim, the share of poor people in the population has fallen even faster, to just below 11%. The single biggest reason for this delightful trend is China. In 1981, almost unbelievably, 88% of Chinese (and 96% of rural Chinese) seem to have lived below the poverty line. In 2013 only 2% of Chinese were extremely poor.
That cannot continue. China will soon eradicate extreme poverty, if it has not done so already. So will countries like Indonesia and Vietnam, which have been almost as good at cutting poverty. That leaves a rump of poverty in South Asia and, especially, sub-Saharan Africa. In 2013, for the first time, more than half of the paupers in the world were African. Poverty will be much harder to root out in those places. South Asian countries like Bangladesh and India have decent economic growth but feeble welfare systems. Africa doesn’t even have the former, especially considering how quickly its population is increasing. Besides, poor Africans often live on much less than $1.90 a day. It is hard to pull exceptionally poor people (sometimes called the “ultra-poor”) over the line. Even African countries that are growing fairly well, like Ethiopia and Rwanda, will have huge poor populations for many years even if incomes rise across the board.
The most obvious but least important consequence of this change is that the world is likely to miss a target. The first of the UN’s “sustainable development goals” has the world cutting poverty to 3% by 2030. That probably will not happen. More important will be a broad loss of confidence. The war on want has gone so well over the years that a sudden slowdown will come as a shock. But at least deep poverty is contained. It is no longer a global scourge, just a South Asian and African one. That is some cause for celebration.
In Africa the mobile phone is ubiquitous — the continent has skipped over landlines and gone straight to mobile. Smartphones are becoming more popular, but a vast majority of phones are basic $25 models. All apps with wide reach in Africa work via SMS.
Nearly all Kenyan households have a mobile phone, and in nearly all those households, at least one person has an M-Pesa account.
This has made a difference. Access to M-Pesa “increased per capita consumption levels and lifted 194,000 households, or 2 percent of Kenyan households, out of poverty,” a recent study estimated. Almost all the affected households were female-headed — and therefore, the most vulnerable.
M-Pesa is available to any Safaricom customer. But it’s only useful if there’s a nearby agent who can accept or disburse cash.
The network has grown to 150,000 agents. Tavneet Suri and William Jack, researchers who work with Innovations for Poverty Action, took advantage of its uneven growth by tracking Kenyans’ incomes in areas that added agents between 2008 and 2010. They also studied incomes in areas with no agent growth.
They followed both groups through 2014. Places that went from zero to six M-Pesa agents ended up with 22 percent fewer female-headed households living in extreme poverty than areas of the same size where no new agents came in.
The Gates Foundation is worried about the world’s wellbeing
Progress in reducing poverty and disease is at risk
BILL AND MELINDA GATES are increasingly worried about the future, according to a report published this week by their foundation. Usually heroically optimistic, the philanthropists fear that some aspects of global progress—of which the report demonstrates there has been lots—are under threat thanks to changes in demography and insufficient funding, as the priorities and moods of international donors have changed. Their report examines future scenarios, considering 18 global challenges from cutting child mortality to increasing financial inclusion, based on different degrees of optimism and pessimism. For instance, projections for HIV suggest that a 10% cut in global donor funding for treatment—a not unduly pessimistic assumption—could lead to 5.6m more deaths by 2030 than if spending remains on track. The couple argue that the decisions that the world makes over the next two years or so will have a huge impact on the futures of millions, if not billions, of people.
For more than 40 years, Muhammad Yunus, the Bangladeshi founder of the Grameen Bank and recipient of the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize, has been asserting that the most powerful way to eradicate poverty is to unleash the untapped entrepreneurial capacity of people everywhere. “Poverty is not created by poor people,” he says. “It’s created by the system we built. Poor people are like a bonsai tree. You take the best seed from the tallest tree in the forest, but if you put it in a flower pot to grow, it grows only a meter high. There’s nothing wrong with the seed. The problem is the size of the pot. Society doesn’t give poor people the space to grow as tall as everybody else. This is the crux of the matter.”
Yunus has recently written a new book, “A World of Three Zeros: The New Economics of Zero Poverty, Zero Unemployment, and Zero Net Carbon Emissions,” in which he argues that capitalism is in crisis and remains moored in a flawed conception of human motivation. He proposes a far more robust role in the economy for “social businesses,” which he defines as “non-dividend” companies “dedicated to solving human problems.”
At 77, Yunus shows no signs of slowing down. He reports on an astonishing array of work he has been involved in — supporting and codeveloping social businesses (often in partnership with large corporations) in Bangladesh, Brazil, Colombia, France, Haiti, India, Japan, Uganda and numerous other countries.
Technology for Social Good – myAgro seeds a mobile future
By Cath Everett
October 19, 2017
myAgro, a non-governmental organisation based in West Africa, is using mobile phone technology to help farmers put aside the money they require to pay for seeds and fertiliser.
In the second of this series of Technology for Social Good articles, non-governmental organisation (NGO) myAgro explains how it is using mobile phone technology to help West African farmers save the money they need to pay for seeds and fertilizer.
Cash flow is a big issue for smallholders, who make up 80% of the world’s poorest two billion people. While many farmers who live below the poverty line are relatively cash-rich at harvest time, without any consistent means of saving, by the time planting time comes around, they often do not have access to the $50-$100 required to buy goods in the bulk in which it is sold.
Infant deaths remain common in the developing world
Babies born in rich countries are up to 50 times more likely to survive
IN 2016 around 1m newborn babies took their last breath on the same day as their first. A further 1.6m didn’t survive a month, and 2.6m more were stillborn—half of whom were alive at the start of labour. Although the worldwide neonatal death rate (defined as living for no more than 28 days) has fallen during the past two decades, from 34 per 1,000 live births to 19, many countries still have worryingly high rates. Fortunately, a new report by UNICEF finds that a large share of these deaths are preventable, suggesting that plenty of additional improvement is possible. In around 80% of cases, either infections or complications during labour are the leading cause of death.
If it succeeds, it could be a model for national welfare systems in poor countries
Safety-nets in one form or another have proliferated across Africa in recent years. Spending on them in sub-Saharan Africa now amounts to about 1.5% of GDP (see chart). In Tanzania 10% of the population is covered by its safety-net (though at a cost of just 0.3% of GDP). Most schemes in Africa are focused on rural people and many are temporary, often implemented by donors in response to natural disasters or conflict. Few are designed to help households manage the private misfortunes—like illness or the death of a family member—that can tip them into destitution. And very few are designed to reduce the chronic unemployment that has taken root in many African cities.
Ethiopia’s programme is a step towards building a national social-security system that will, in time, replace a hotch-potch of small ones. It builds on Ethiopia’s flagship rural safety-net, which is the largest of its kind on the continent and covers some 10m poor people in the countryside. The government has committed $150m to fund the new scheme and the World Bank has stumped up the remaining $300m needed for the first five years. Ethiopia hopes that within 10 years it will not need help financing the programme.
For years the Ethiopian government had flinched at terms like “social protection”. But donors are hopeful that it now considers the safety-net a long-term policy rather than “than a sticking plaster that won’t be necessary once industrialisation takes off,” says Tom Lavers of Manchester University. But, he notes, antipathy towards Western-style welfarism remains strong. The government flatly rejected the idea of no-strings cash handouts, which are popular among donors and development economists, partly because they are cheap to administer. “People can’t expect a free lunch,” says Belynshe Regassa, the head of Mrs Zewide’s local committee
Is Cash Better for Poor People Than Conventional Foreign Aid?
U.S.A.I.D., the American foreign aid agency, is conducting a trial that measures the impact when poor people abroad are simply given money with which to decide what’s best for themselves.
Results are expected to be made public soon; all we have right now is anecdotes. A half-dozen women I interviewed last spring in Rwanda all said they had bought food with their cash. Some bought goats or improved their homes. Vestine Mukamana, a 32-year-old mother of six, now leases a solar panel for about $4.50 a month that powers a single light bulb and recharges her cellphone.
One advantage of providing money over conventional aid is that it is cheap and easy to deliver, via cellphones. Of every $100 raised by GiveDirectly, between $85 and $91 reaches the poor, the nonprofit says. Other global nonprofits spend similar percentages on what they call “programming,” but that category includes the salaries and travel expenses of staff members who carry out projects, limiting the value that reaches the poor.
Some people argue that a second advantage of cash is philosophical. Mr. Niehaus, of Give Directly, said: “The basic question is, is it better for us to figure out how to spend this money, or is it better to let poor people decide?”
We Were Making Headway on Global Poverty. What’s About to Change?
We’ve made extraordinary strides, but the hardest part is in front of us.
Do you think the number of poor people in the world has gone up or down in the past 25 years?
This question is an excellent conversation starter because practically everybody answers it incorrectly. Primed by depressing and shocking headlines, most people assume that poverty has increased. Some people say it has held steady. Almost none are aware that in fact, more than a billion people have overcome poverty just since the turn of the millennium.
This huge drop in the number of people living on less than $1.90 per day is among the most underappreciated and most important developments of our generation.
But it’s not guaranteed to continue. In fact, progress against poverty is in jeopardy. According to current projections, the number of people in extreme poverty will stagnate at over 500 million. In the worst-case scenario, it could even start going back up.
Why has the world arrived at this crossroads? The answer is the unfortunate intersection of two demographic trends.
First, as extreme poverty disappears from many places, including China and India and, increasingly, many countries in Africa, it gets more and more concentrated in the most challenging places in the world. Poverty is especially stubborn in a group of about a dozen countries in sub-Saharan Africa marked by violent conflict, severe climate change, weak governance and broken health and education systems. More and more, extreme poverty will be a feature of life only where people’s opportunities to overcome it are brutally limited.
Second, these dozen countries are growing faster than every other place in the world. In the United States, women have an average of two children. In Niger, one of the poorest countries in the world, they have an average of seven. Births aren’t randomly distributed geographically. Rather, they are concentrated in the places where poverty is concentrated. Based on current trends, a growing proportion of babies will be born in places where adults have to devote most of their resources to survival, leaving very little to invest in their families, their communities and their countries.
Poverty is most commonly defined by economic standards, based on income levels and access to basic human necessities, such as food, water, and shelter. Poverty is often described with a scale, ranging from extreme to moderate levels. The internationally agreed-upon measurement of extreme poverty currently lies at $1.25 a day, with the next lowest measure of poverty standing at $2 per day. The geographic breakdown of regions with the highest levels of poverty ranging from worst to best include: Sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia, Pacific East Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean, North Africa and the Middle East, and Europe and Central Asia.
Three nonprofits on how data is helping them reach sustainable development goals.
The BOMA Project, the Aga Khan Foundation and the Demand Institute are among the nonprofits working to reach those goals—with the help of data visualization technology. They shared their progress at Dreamforce 2018.
The BOMA Project wants to end extreme poverty, end hunger and achieve gender equity in Kenya.
The BOMA Project trains women to be entrepreneurs and run a small business in rural parts of Kenya. They learn how to earn and save money, becoming self-reliant in 14 months.
Past programs have seen short-lived success, but the BOMA Project said that it is seeing long-term impact through its use of data to refine its efforts in real time. About 75 percent of the women in its program have graduated.
A command of data helps the BOMA Project better do its job.
In one case, the BOMA Project had a goal of registering 2,500 households to be candidates for the program. But at the end of the day, after visiting five villages, they were only able to sign up 1,700 households. By mapping and analyzing the data, they refined their strategy, added more villages and were able to reach their target.
In another case, the system alerted the staff about questionable survey results, in time for the staff to investigate and correct it. The system showed that some households had reported that their children had not eaten any food in the past seven days. “We were getting some zeros and we don't want any zeros," said the BOMA Project's Joe McVicker.
Digging into the data, they found that the zeros came from three villages and were the results of the same third-party group. The BOMA Project contacted the third-party group and discovered that the reason for the zeros weren't because the children were starving. It was because the children were babies who were breastfeeding. By catching the mix-up early, the BOMA Project was able to avoid a more serious problem later on.
In Canada it’s not like that. About 15 years ago, a disparate group of Canadians realized that a problem as complex as poverty can be addressed only through a multisector comprehensive approach. They realized that poverty was not going to be reduced by some innovation — some cool, new program nobody thought of before. It was going to be addressed through better systems that were mutually supporting and able to enact change on a population level.
So they began building citywide and communitywide structures. They started 15 years ago with just six cities, but now they have 72 regional networks covering 344 towns.
They begin by gathering, say, 100 people from a single community. A quarter have lived with poverty; the rest are from business, nonprofits and government.
They spend a year learning about poverty in their area, talking with the community. They launch a different kind of conversation. First, they don’t want better poor; they want fewer poor. That is to say, their focus is not on how do we give poor people food so they don’t starve. It is how do we move people out of poverty. Second, they up their ambitions. How do we eradicate poverty altogether? Third, they broaden their vision. What does a vibrant community look like in which everybody’s basic needs are met.
After a year they come up with a town plan. Each town’s poverty is different. Each town’s assets are different. So each town’s plan is different.
The town plans feature a lot of collaborative activity. A food pantry might turn itself into a job training center by allowing the people who are fed do the actual work. The pantry might connect with local businesses that change their hiring practices so that high school degrees are not required. Businesses might pledge to raise their minimum wage.
The plans involve a lot of policy changes on the town and provincial levels — improved day care, redesigned transit systems, better work-force development systems.
The World’s Malnourished Kids Don’t Need a $295 Burger
A quarter of the world’s children are stunted from inadequate diets.
ANTIGUA, Guatemala — Raúl is a happy preschooler, tumbling around among 4- and 5-year-olds, but something is off.
It’s not his behavior, for it’s the same as that of the other little kids. Rather, it’s his face. The baby fat is gone, and although he’s only 3 feet 5 inches tall, the height of an average 5-year-old, an older face seems grafted on.
Sure enough, Raúl turns out to be 9. Malnutrition has left his body and mind badly stunted. He’s one of almost one-quarter of all children worldwide who are stunted from malnutrition.
Here in Guatemala, almost half of children are stunted. In some Mayan villages, it’s 70 percent.
In another world, on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, the restaurant Serendipity 3 offers a $295 hamburger. Alternatively, it sells a $214 grilled cheese sandwich and a $1,000 sundae.
“Stunting is probably the best marker of child health inequality,” Dr. Kirsten Austad of the Maya Health Alliance told me. “Stunting is a key driver of intergenerational poverty.”
The big problem with stunting from malnutrition isn’t that people are short but that they often have impaired brain development.
This Mozambique case study shows that poverty is about much more than income, here’s why
What does it mean to be poor? On the face of it, this may not sound like a very difficult question. In developed countries, almost all official and everyday definitions refer to poverty in income terms. In this sense, low consumption power (income) and poverty are essentially synonymous.
Outside of developed countries, a similar view of poverty frequently gets headlines. In its global comparisons, the World Bank has adopted the (in)famous poverty line of US$1.90 a day. So, people with daily real incomes below this amount form part of the global poor – thankfully, now a diminishing group.
One might dispute exactly how and where such a poverty line should be set. But the idea that being poor means not having an adequate income often seems uncontroversial.
Of course, among academics things are rarely so settled. Between economists, there is disagreement about whether poverty should be measured only in monetary terms. In other areas of social science, there is a tradition of scepticism that suggests standard quantitative definitions of poverty can be misleading.
Representing poverty as a kind of well-defined objective condition, like an infectious disease, focuses attention on the symptoms and immediate consequences of poverty. It risks diverting attention away from the underlying structural causes and diverse experiences of the poor.
For humanity over all, life just keeps getting better.
If you’re depressed by the state of the world, let me toss out an idea: In the long arc of human history, 2019 has been the best year ever.
The bad things that you fret about are true. But it’s also true that since modern humans emerged about 200,000 years ago, 2019 was probably the year in which children were least likely to die, adults were least likely to be illiterate and people were least likely to suffer excruciating and disfiguring diseases.
Every single day in recent years, another 325,000 people got their first access to electricity. Each day, more than 200,000 got piped water for the first time. And some 650,000 went online for the first time, every single day.
Perhaps the greatest calamity for anyone is to lose a child. That used to be common: Historically, almost half of all humans died in childhood. As recently as 1950, 27 percent of all children still died by age 15. Now that figure has dropped to about 4 percent.
“If you were given the opportunity to choose the time you were born in, it’d be pretty risky to choose a time in any of the thousands of generations in the past,” noted Max Roser, an Oxford University economist who runs the Our World in Data website. “Almost everyone lived in poverty, hunger was widespread and famines common.”
But … but … but President Trump! But climate change! War in Yemen! Starvation in Venezuela! Risk of nuclear war with North Korea. …
All those are important concerns, and that’s why I write about them regularly. Yet I fear that the news media and the humanitarian world focus so relentlessly on the bad news that we leave the public believing that every trend is going in the wrong direction. A majority of Americans say in polls that the share of the world population living in poverty is increasing — yet one of the trends of the last 50 years has been a huge reduction in global poverty.
We need to move from pointing fingers to offering helping hands.
When my wife and I wrote about my old schoolmates who had died from “deaths of despair,” the reaction was sometimes ugly.
“They killed themselves,” scoffed Jonathan from St. Louis, Mo., in the reader comments. “It was self-inflicted.”
Ajax in Georgia was even harsher: “Natural selection weeding out those less fit for survival.”
Our essay, drawn from our new book, “Tightrope,” explored the disintegration of America’s working class through the kids on my old No. 6 school bus in Yamhill, Ore., particularly my neighbors the Knapps. The five Knapp kids were smart and talented, but Farlan died after years of drug and alcohol abuse, Zealan died in a house fire while passed out drunk, Nathan blew himself up cooking meth, Rogena died of hepatitis after drug use, and Keylan survived partly because he had spent 13 years in the Oregon State Penitentiary.
Working-class men and women like them, of every shade, increasingly are dying of “deaths of despair” — from drugs, alcohol and suicide. That’s why life expectancy in the United States, for the first time in a century, has declined for three years in a row.
Plenty of readers responded with compassion. But there was a prickly scorn from some that deserves a response because it reflects an ideology that underlies so many failed policies. It arises from the myth that we live in a land of limitless opportunity and that those who struggle have simply made “bad choices” and failed to muster “personal responsibility.” Dr. Ben Carson, who grew up poor and black in Detroit and is now the nation’s housing secretary, has described poverty as “more of a choice than anything else.”
This “personal responsibility” narrative animated some reader critics of the Knapps. “This article describes ruined, pitiful people,” one reader commented. “The main problem they have is weakness of character.”
Over the last half-century, this narrative has gained ground in America; it’s an echo of the “social Darwinism” that circulated a century ago. I’ve come to think that the biggest impediment to strengthening America isn’t a shortage of resources but this personal responsibility obsession.
When we underinvest in our own human capital, when so many Americans are only marginally literate or numerate or suffer from ill health or dependencies, then our entire country suffers. If America wants to compete with China, we should worry less about intellectual property protections and more about investing in the well-being of young Americans.
Yet the personal responsibility narrative leads states to refuse to expand Medicaid. It leads us to lock up drug users instead of providing them help, even though each dollar invested in treatment can save $12 or more in reduced criminal justice and health costs.
When we as a nation are willing to pay extra so that we can lock people up and rip apart their families, that’s gratuitous cruelty posturing as policy.
Of course personal responsibility matters. But imagine if we took the personal responsibility obsession to auto safety. That would look something like this:
Auto crashes often are a result of speeding, drinking or texting. If we coddle drivers with airbags and padded dashboards, and have ambulances ready to rescue them, they’ll never learn to drive responsibly. Better to implant spikes in dashboards so they appreciate consequences!
A newborn in a ZIP code of North Philadelphia with a largely poor and black population has a life expectancy 20 years shorter than a newborn in mostly white central Philadelphia just four miles away; that’s not because one infant has displayed “weak character.”
Britain reduced child poverty by half under Tony Blair. It’s not that British infants suddenly showed more personal responsibility; it’s that the government showed responsibility. Here in the United States, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine laid out a blueprint for reducing America’s child poverty by half, yet Congress and President Trump do nothing.
In that sense, Dr. Carson is right: Poverty is a choice. But it’s our choice.
My friends the Knapps made mistakes. Of course they did. But they weren’t less responsible, less talented or less hard-working than their parents or grandparents who had thrived in the postwar era.
What changed was diminishing access to good jobs, reduced commitment to investment in human capital, a hurricane of addictive drugs (some peddled by the pharmaceutical industry), and the rise of a harsh social narrative that vilified those left behind — a narrative that workers often internalized. Workers lost their dignity and hope, and that exacerbated the spiral of self-medication and self-destruction, of loneliness and despair that swept through my No. 6 bus.
We moved from an inclusive capitalism in the postwar era to a rigged system that hobbles unions, underinvests in children and then punishes those left behind. This is the moral equivalent of spikes on dashboards.
What would a better social narrative look like? It would acknowledge personal responsibility but also our collective social responsibility — especially to help children. It would be infused with empathy and a “morality of grace” that is less about pointing fingers and more about offering helping hands. It would accept that a country cannot reach its potential when so many of its citizens are not achieving theirs.
Empty stomachs can lead to a dangerous desperation.
Have you ever been hungry? Truly hungry? Not the hunger one gets in anticipation of a meal, but the kind that pinches the stomach when you know no food is forthcoming. It is the kind of pang you take to bed with you, the kind that greets you when you rise. It is a bitter physical deprivation that gnaws at not only the gut but the spirit. It makes you sad. It makes you angry.
I grew up having to stay one step ahead of hunger. It was like running ahead of tireless hounds through a dark wood.
When the neighborhood children rode by on their bicycles, I worked and weeded the garden. When they rode by in the bus on the way to school, I was knee-deep in mud and feces trying to get runaway hogs back into their pens.
At harvest time we processed all the food in our garden. We sat in a circle, all of us, shucking corn or shelling peas, well into the nights. I remember doing this when I was as young as 5 years old.
The owners of larger farms would sometimes allow us to come and harvest what was left of what they had grown, after they had taken what they needed. We’d show up before sunrise and pick well into the day, when the sun sat high in the Louisiana sky and chased us into the shade.
My mother would bag and can it all. She used a giant deep freezer as a sideboard next to the dinner table, draping a tablecloth over it and decorating it with ceramic knickknacks.
The entire time I was in school I ate a “reduced price” lunch: 50 cents a day, if I recall. And I was among only a few that did. Almost everyone else ate free lunch.
We were poor, my family and my whole community.
I now think a lot about children like the one I was and families like the one I had in this era of pandemic, when unfathomable job losses are hitting low-wage workers hardest, when schools where poor children ate free lunches are closed, where there are now regular news stories of food banks being inundated with desperate families in need of help.
As a Brookings report last week detailed: “By the end of April, more than one in five households in the United States, and two in five households with mothers with children 12 and under, were food insecure. In almost one in five households of mothers with children age 12 and under, the children were experiencing food insecurity.”
David A. Super, a professor at Georgetown University Law Center, wrote last week for Talking Points Memo:
“In addition to the sudden disappearance of jobs, our other defenses against hunger are collapsing. Tens of millions of low-income children lost access to free and reduced-price breakfasts and lunches when their schools closed. Tens of millions more have lost access to subsidized meals in child care centers. The summer food programs that try to fill the gap when schools close will face formidable challenges this year.”
Some of this gap is being filled by food banks. In the school district where I grew up in Bienville Parish, La., the schools are providing bag lunches that students and their parents can come to the schools and get. But none of this is enough.
People will be hungry. They already are. And, hunger is not a thing that you simply become inured to. It makes people desperate, and desperation, on the scale that it will likely occur because of this pandemic, is dangerous.
The effect of this pandemic on the vulnerable isn’t limited to America. This is likely to be a world crisis of hunger and instability. As David M. Beasley, executive director of the U.N. World Food Program, wrote last month in The Washington Post:
The coronavirus pandemic “now threatens to detonate an unprecedented global humanitarian catastrophe. Millions of civilians living in conflict-scarred nations will be further pushed to the brink of starvation. The numbers are shocking: On any given day, the World Food Program offers a lifeline to nearly 100 million people. This includes about 30 million people who literally depend on us to stay alive. Most of them are trapped in war zones and can’t leave.”
The United States is far from a war zone, and yet we still tolerate an extraordinary level of food insecurity, one of the worst among developed countries.
The next time you order your salmon fillets and truffle oil from your online grocer and grouse about out-of-stock crème fraîche, remember that there is severe imbalance to this pandemic and there are people, children, going to bed tonight with stomachs that will not be quieted, that are agitated by their emptiness, dealing with a hunger that will still be there in the morning.
In seventh-century Arabia, cities like Mecca saw an increasing disparity between wealthy traders and those who lived a life of poverty and suffering.
Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him and his family) actively addressed injustices in his society. He drew attention to the needs of people who needed help and care and tried to reduce suffering through words and actions. He called on those who were rich and powerful not to ignore the poor and the defenseless, and to work to improve their quality of life. This echoes in the stories told in the Qur'an of previous prophets who were equally concerned with caring for the vulnerable in their societies.
Allah speaks to us in the Qur'an about the importance of caring for others and showing generosity:
“And show kindness - to parents, relatives, orphans, needy, close neighbors, strange neighbors, the companion at your side and the traveler (that you find)…” (4:36)
In the following Hadith, Prophet Muhammad reports a quote directly from Allah, which says:
"Allah (mighty and sublime be He) will say on the Day of Resurrection ...
O son of Adam, I asked you for food and you did not feed me. He will say, O Lord, and how should I feed You when You are the Lord of the worlds? He will say: Did you not know that my fellow servant, Sicran, asked you for food and you did not feed him? Didn't you know that if you had fed it, you would certainly have discovered that (the reward for doing it) with me? ”
In fact, Allah severely rebukes those who pray, but neglect to fulfill their ethical responsibilities:
“Woe to those who pray, but are negligent in their prayer; those who do it for ostentation and refuse to pay common (small) kindnesses. ” (107: 4-7)
SOCIAL CONSCIOUSNESS IN THE HISTORY OF IMAMAT ISMAILI
Hazrat Ali (alayhi-salam), as the first Imam Shi'a and the fourth caliph, ruled the diverse Muslim empire. According to the paradigm of Muslim leadership exemplified by the Prophet, Hazrat Ali was concerned for everyone he ruled, regardless of his faith.
In a letter written to his appointed governor in Egypt, Malik al-Ashtar, Hazrat Ali advised him to pay close attention to the following groups:
"the lower class, those who have no means, the needy, the afflicted, the handicapped ... Treat these people in such a way that God can excuse you the day you find him, because they need your justice more than than any other among your subjects. ”
Throughout the history of the Shi'a Ismaili Muslim community, our Imams have been responsible for caring for the needy, both in Jamat and in the wider community.
During the dawr al-satr (concealment period), from 765 to 909 CE, the Ismailis faced persecution and operated largely with discretion, but the Imamat was still working to ensure the Jamat's safety and well-being. The Fatimid Imams, who ruled northern Africa and Egypt from 909 to 1094 CE, were responsible for governing an extremely diverse population in an inclusive manner.
The Nizari Ismaili Imams, who ruled the Alamut fortress in the 12th and 13th centuries, sought to keep Jamat safe during a period of political turmoil by establishing a network of castles in Persia and Syria. They also protected members of other Muslim communities who fled the Mongol invasion during the early 13th century.
SOCIAL AWARENESS AND IMAMAT TODAY
In modern times, the Imamat continues this tradition. Based on the foundations established by Mawlana Sultan Muhammad Shah (alayhi-salam), Mawlana Hazar Imam's work focuses heavily on building institutions that improve the quality of life of the global Jamat, the Muslim Ummah and the societies in which the Jamat lives. This includes the Jamati institutions and the Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN). AKDN is a contemporary effort by Imamat Ismaili to realize the social awareness of Islam through institutional action.
Motivated by the ethics of Islam, these institutions focus on helping the most marginalized in society - the poor, the sick, the elderly, women and everyone else in need.
It is important that we continue to help those in need of assistance. Generosity is needed not only today, but mainly in the coming months and years, as we rebuild our lives and societies.
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