Wednesday, February 17, 2010

The legacy of poverty

The following was written by ACLU blogger Melissa Mongogna:

As his momentous contribution to the campaign to ensure civil rights for all Americans was coming to fruition, Dr. Martin Luther King began to move his attention to eradicating poverty in the US, something he considered to be equally dividing to people as racial discrimination was. Shortly before his assassination, he said in a 1967 address:

"Let us be dissatisfied until the tragic walls that separate the outer city of wealth and comfort and the inner city of poverty and despair shall be crushed by the battering rams of the forces of justice. Let us be dissatisfied until those that live on the outskirts of hope are brought into the metropolis of daily security." (

This quote also characterizes the relationship between the Global South and the Global North and just as Dr. King was motivated to correct this relationship within the US, we should also be motivated to rectify it globally. It is not only a moral obligation we should shoulder as citizens of the world, but as we saw through the January 12th earthquake in Haiti, poverty is “contagious” thus making its impact that much more devastating to the world beyond its reach. There are many examples of cascading effects of poverty which many countries in the Global South teeter on, the following are but a few: Poverty and a lack of opportunity which allows one to wrestle from its grip lead many to live in unstable housing on unstable plots of land so they can be near the only jobs or food sources that exist (in urban areas), both of which exponentially increasing damage and loss of life when tragedy strikes; A lack of a stable government whose goal is to provide for its people which are often found in impoverished countries ultimately leads to failing infrastructure, health systems, job markets, and school systems which leaves vulnerable citizens open to the elements and without assistance or a future; Sometimes, well intentioned international aid exacerbates a poverty related problem, as when food aid is flooded into an area on the verge of famine which then also plunges the surrounding areas into famine as struggling (but surviving) farmers can no longer compete with free food aid supplies. This leads to long lasting consequences as it destabilizes the entire food producing capability of an area who once subsisted independently.

The conundrums which make up the relationship between the Global South and the Global North are complex (paternal, maternal, patronizing, abusive, collaborative, one-way, etc), and whose outcome often depend on context (disaster response, civil war, border stability, regional politics, national vs. foreign policy, historical legacy, etc). So what is the answer? I would say, in general, the answer to achieving global equity is sustainable development, not simply aid. Collaboratively teaching people ways to help themselves and setting up infrastructure which allows for natural community/country level resources to be utilized (over adopting one size fits all outside materials/methods) and which provides opportunities for community members to grow personally and professionally in order to help themselves and their country, is vital. This participatory response provides a way that will allow for a community/country to eventually stand on its own two feet and direct its own destiny, without further foreign assistance.

Written by Melissa Mongogna, 4-15-2010

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