Friday, October 24, 2008


I have been asked several times what I think of the poverty we have seen in the various countries we have visited. All of the countries have had great similarities in terms of slum areas and people living on the edge. But all of the countries have also been vastly different in terms of the general sense of people's attitudes and life. In Nicaragua people had confidence and pride and generally a higher standard of living. In the Philippines there was a large middle class who did not lack food but were still struggling. In Bangladesh poverty is everywhere but people are still so hospitable and friendly.

All of this got me thinking about how to define poverty and how to reconcile what I have seen. Being an engineer I turned immediately to statistics. Although these don’t tell the whole story I found these interesting enough to share. The stats are mostly from the Unicef website and I have shown just a summary of what I thought was interesting and helped me wrestle with the differences I see.

For me these statistics raise many questions and I invite you to spend some time looking at them and thinking about what it all means. Why does Nicaragua receive more aid than Niger even though it has a smaller population and a healthier public? Why are only 10% of births registered in Bangladesh? Can you trust any statistics when only 10% of the births are registered? Can a society function when one in seven mothers die in childbirth? What does it take to make democracy work when less than half the population can read or write? Is it fair that the Philippines use 16% of their income for debt servicing when much of the money loaned was taken by corrupt leaders.

No two countries are the same. They all have their own history, languages, cultures and resources. Similarly what you see as you walk the streets is very different and I think our response as a "developed" country needs to take this into account.

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