How many people are poor or hungry in the world? Has the world changed for the better or the worse?
While there are strong opinions on both sides, most developmental experts regard the picture as mixed, but still very dire. Even though the World Bank reports some progress on fighting poverty, near half the world still lives on less than 2 dollars a day.
Think about that slowly: 2.5 BILLION people live on less than 2 dollars a day
And that is not Two American Dollars converted to a pot of local currency.
It is 2 dollars in Purchasing Power Parity (PPP); in other words, 2 dollars worth of stuff as can be bought in the US. And we're celebrating now because the number of people that live below $1.25 (PPP) a day has come down! As Adam Parsons writes in CounterPunch:
Many critics have pointed out that the Bank’s poverty line, once fixed at $1 a day and now modified to $1.25 a day, is outrageously low by any standards. Living on this amount of money in the United States would be unthinkable, but according to the ‘purchasing power parity’ adjustment that the Bank uses – based on the differences in the prices of household consumption goods and services in different countries – this is effectively what this means. Contrary to popular perception, the world poverty measure is based on what $1.25 a day would buy in the United States, not in another country like Ethiopia or Peru.How can we end the Hunger Games of showing progress by selectively counting the poor below absurd levels of subsistence? And in a world where the resources required to feed these people is miniscule compared to Apple's cash hoard?
Follow me past the orange croissant of plenty and I'll tell you about an inspiring woman who speaks effectively about how The Hunger Games can end.
The World Bank with its mission of fighting poverty is supposed to be a leading force in reducing hunger because it funds huge capital programs in the developing world.
In other words, institutions like the World Bank are where the real Hunger Games are played. It's no coincidence that the World Bank, located in our nation's capital, is always headed by an American and largely staffed by experts from the developed countries. Aid receiving nations are treated as the charity seeking "Districts" that should be grateful for the condescending technocratic advice that comes with the pennies.
So it is of some importance to the hungry when there is an opportunity to change the course of this organization towards a more positive direction.
That opportunity came (and went?) recently when President Obama just nominated Jim Yong Kim, President of Dartmouth College to be the US nominee for the President of the World Bank. There are two amazing facts about Kim's appointment that bring joy to our hearts:
Apart from that, Jim Yong Kim sounds like a nice pick in a "let's give you a non-White pick with technical credentials and hope you don't notice he's American" kind of way.
Kim has 20 years of experience in improving health in developing countries. He is a founding trustee and the former executive director of Partners In Health, a not-for-profit organization that supports a range of health programs in poor communities in Haiti, Peru, Russia, Rwanda, Lesotho, Malawi and the United States.Sound to you like an inspirational leader who'll force change? Not much.
From 2004 to 2006, Kim served as Director of the World Health Organization’s HIV/AIDS department, a post he was appointed to in March 2004 after serving as advisor to the WHO Director General. Kim oversaw all of the WHO’s work related to HIV/AIDS, focusing on initiatives to help developing countries scale up their treatment, prevention, and care programs, including the “3x5” initiative designed to put three million people in developing countries on AIDS treatment by the end of 2005.
Can Obama do better? Absolutely yes.
Since its founding in 1944, the World Bank always has been headed by an American. Developing countries have long sought to gain more power in the World Bank as well as its sister lending organization, the International Monetary Fund, which always has been headed by a European.Obama can change this longstanding habit of forcing through the American for the role and get behind a really compelling candidate that is backed by a number of developing countries -- Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, the Nigerean Finance Minister, a very strong woman with an amazing life story and incredible accomplishments.
As Felix Salmon writes:
This really puts the pressure on the White House to knock it out of the park with their nomination, because Ngozi, in particular, is broadly regarded both within and outside the Bank as being pretty much perfect for the job. She’s a whip-smart economist, she’s honest, she’s imaginative, she’s dedicated, she’s expert at navigating the Bank’s labyrinthine bureaucracy and politics, and she’s passionate about the way that the Bank can really make the world a better place.I was really struck by her TED video when she wrapped up a conference on Trade and Aid and talked about what she'd like to see for Africa. See that entire video for her excellent suggestions on how humanitarian aid, infrastructure and entrepreneurship can work together.
In the middle of all that there is a very moving passage where she talks about her own experience with aid.
From 1967 to ’70, Nigeria fought a war: the Nigeria-Biafra war. And in the middle of that war, I was 14 years old… We were on the Biafran side. And we were down to eating one meal a day, running from place to place, but wherever we could help we did. At a certain point in time, in 1969, things were really bad. We were down to almost nothing in terms of a meal a day. People, children were dying of kwashiorkor. I’m sure some of you who are not so young will remember those pictures. Well, I was in the middle of it. In the midst of all this, my mother fell ill with a stomach ailment for two or three days. We thought she was going to die. My father was not there. He was in the army. So I was the oldest person in the house. My sister fell very ill with malaria. She was three years old and I was 15. And she had such a high fever. We tried everything. It didn’t look like it was going to work.What an amazing story ... take that Katniss Everdeen!
Until we heard that 10 kilometers away there was a doctor, who was able … who was giving … looking at people and giving them meds. Now I put my sister on my back, burning, and I walked 10 kilometers with her strapped on my back. It was really hot. I was very hungry. I was scared because I knew her life depended on my getting to this woman. We heard there was a woman doctor who was treating people. I walked 10 kilometers, putting one foot in front of the other. I got there and I saw huge crowds. Almost a thousand people were there, trying to break down the door. She was doing this in a church. How was I going to get in? I had to crawl in between the legs of these people with my sister strapped on my back, find a way to a window. And while they were trying to break down the door, I climbed in through the window, and jumped in. This woman told me it was in the nick of time. By the time we jumped into that hall, she was barely moving. She gave a shot of her chloroquine, what I learned was the chloroquine, then gave her some, it must have been a re-hydration, and some other therapies, and put us in a corner. In about two to three hours, she started to move. And then, they toweled her down because she started sweating, which was a good sign. And then my sister woke up. And about five or six hours later, she said we could go home. I strapped her on my back. I walked the 10 kilometers back and it was the shortest walk I ever had. I was so happy that my sister was alive. Today, she’s 41 years old, a mother of three, and she’s a physician saving other lives.
Even tho' its a really an uphill battle for Ngozi given that the Capital seems to have staked out its claim I still hope for an improbable win by the Districts!
Maybe Barack Obama, even at the risk of being branded a Kenyan anti-colonialist, you will surprise us by changing this custom of forcing an American on the World Bank? Some real change with Ngozi?