February 15th, 2006 00:15 EST
The Gap Between
During the second half of the 20th Century, the world was embroiled in a Cold War and divided politically into three parts: the world of communism, chiefly embodied in the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics; the world of non-communist nations, led by the United States of America; and nations not aligned with either side forming the so-called ‘Third World’.
Later, the term ‘Third World’ came to be viewed as derogatory and was replaced with the term ‘Underdeveloped Nations’. This term, also, took on negative connotations and was replaced with the more widely accepted term ‘Developing Nations’.
In the 21st Century, the differences between developed and developing nations, in an economic and industrial sense, are a serious reality. Highly developed, industrial and economically advanced nations boast high living standards, whereas those with less industry, which are thus less developed economically, make do with lower standards.
According to the 2005 Britannica Book of the Year, the nine richest countries of the world-- Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Iceland, Japan, Luxembourg, Norway, Switzerland and the United states-- all record an average male life expectancy of above 74 years, and literacy levels above 95% of the total population.
On the other hand, of the 18 poorest countries, Zambia has an average male life expectancy of 35.3 years, and Niger has a literacy level of 15.7% of the total population.
Yet, neither world is ideal. None can rightfully claim perfection. The book Food Fight claims that over-consumption has replaced malnutrition as the world’s top food problem. A past issue of the magazine The Atlantic Monthly states, "Some nine million Americans are now morbidly obese, meaning roughly 45 kilograms or more overweight, and weight related conditions cause about 300,000 premature deaths a year in this country."
On the other side of the world, countries like Niger are battling with severe food shortages. Drought, civil unrest, war, or perhaps economic crises-- such as the one currently facing Kenya-- greatly influence the availability of food and services.
As it is, some 840 million people go to bed under-nourished every night. Many of them live in large cities. As cities grow, the surrounding fields once dedicated to agricultural production are lost to new housing, industry, and roads. Often, little or no food is grown within the cities, and meat arrives from distant rural areas. In many developing countries, roads are inadequate, resulting in longer transportation times, greater wastage, and higher prices to consumers, many of whom are poor.
The poor live in neighborhoods outlying large cities like the Kibera Slums in Nairobi, Kenya. Such neighborhoods lack basic amenities– electricity, piped water, sewers, roads, and solid waste disposal. Markets in such areas are often not planned, but arise spontaneously. The markets are poorly maintained and badly managed. Unhygienic conditions resulting from increasing amounts of organic and inorganic waste create serious health risks. Keep in mind that health care in such areas is seriously limited. While the nine richest countries may boast one physician for every 242 to 539 inhabitants, the 18 poorest countries can only claim one physician for every 3,707 to 49,118 inhabitants.
Worldwide, there are over 100 million homeless people, according to a report by the United Nations. The book Strategies to Combat Homelessness, published by the United nations Center for Human Settlements, identifies several causes for homelessness. One is the inability of governments to devote sufficient resources towards adequate housing for all. Governments in developing nations experience this inability at higher degrees; hence, the number of the homeless and those inadequately housed is greater in such nations.
That is not to say that developed nations have no problems with homelessness or inadequate housing. In the comparatively affluent countries, the population comprises both the rich and the poor. In the USA, about 30% of the nation’s total income goes into the pockets of the upper 10% of households. At the same time, the lower 20% of households must make do with just 5% of the total income. Even governments in countries with a comparatively large middle class have, until now, been unable to bridge the economic gap between those who have and those who have not.
Of the poor, women and children suffer most. Take, for instance, the war against HIV/AIDS. ‘The epidemic disproportionately affects women and adolescent girls who are socially, culturally, biologically and economically more vulnerable and who shoulder the burden of caring for the sick and dying’, reports UNAIDS.
While Anti-Retro-Viral (ARV) therapy is widely administered in high-income countries, the World Health Organization estimates that in some developing countries, only 5% of those who need ARV therapy-- a majority of whom are women-- can access the drugs.
The average price of a three-drug ARV regimen in the US and Europe is between $10000 and $15000 a year. Even though generic copies of these drug combinations are now being offered in some developing lands at a yearly rate of $300 or less, this is still beyond the reach of many.
Many children worldwide have to endure the ravaging effects of poverty. How heartbreaking to read of, hear of, or see children suffering from malnutrition, homelessness or inadequate housing and severe health problems, coupled with lack of healthcare.
Ideally, the world would be able to achieve the so-called Millennium Goals; namely, to provide adequate nutrition, adequate housing, and adequate healthcare, and other basic living necessities by a certain time in the future. Realistically, achieving those goals will be a massive war against social, political, and economic systems that are far from ideal.
While we must be optimistic and work hard for a better future, we must be realistic, too. The gap between adequate and inadequate might be here to stay for a while longer.