The Gap Between Rich and Poor Is Widening

“More progress has been made in reducing global poverty in the past five decades than in the previous five centuries,” states UNDP Today, a publication of the United Nations Development Programme. “Developing countries have halved child death rates since 1960, reduced malnutrition by one-third and raised school [enrollment] rates by one-quarter.” Yet, the same source admits that despite this progress, global poverty “remains widespread.”

Even worse, inequities within and between societies are growing. “Compared to one year ago,” says Catherine Bertini, the UN World Food Programme’s executive director, “many more people in the world are suffering from malnutrition and hunger.” In fact, today some 840 million people in the developing world live with constant hunger, well over a billion have no access to water that is safe to drink, and nearly 1.5 billion people scrape along on less than a dollar a day. Mary Robinson, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, warns that “we are in danger of reaching a point where the world is divided not between developing and developed states, but between over-developed and never to be developed [states].”

What would it cost today’s world community of six billion people to narrow the gap between the rich and the poor? Less than one may think. The UN calculates that an additional $9 billion ($1.50 per person) a year would be required to provide sanitation and clean water worldwide and that an additional $13 billion (about $2.00 per person) a year would be needed to ensure basic health and nutrition for everyone on earth. Although these are considerable amounts, they seem to shrink when compared with what the world spends on other services. To illustrate, in one recent year, the world spent $435 billion (over $70 per person) on advertising and $780 billion ($130 per person) on military matters. Clearly, narrowing the gap between the world’s haves and have-nots is not so much a matter of finding sufficient funds as it is a matter of setting proper priorities.