Money’s no answer to global poverty
On 23 November Richard Fleming of the Global Poverty Project wrote an article on the Punch entitled “You don’t have to be a brain surgeon to rejuvenate a life”.
I think it is perhaps fair to say that I am more deeply involved with the beautiful journey of Trishna and Krishna than Richard.
While I cannot avoid discussing the twins, my response is aimed at the broader issues of development and poverty Richard raises in his article rather than focusing only on the unique story of Trishna and Krishna.
It is fair to say that for everyone concerned, the benefits of involvement with the miraculous experience of the twins has been far more than any cost-benefit analysis would show.
The hospital has achieved international recognition as a pioneering pediatric institute. The medical staff have had a once in a lifetime career opportunity to develop knowledge and skills that will enable them to help save the lives of other children in the future.
Moira Kelly and her foundation have been given media attention and public support that will assist her in bringing countless children unlucky enough to be born in countries without medical services to Australia for life-saving operations.
The Australian public is inspired to do good by a news story other than our appalling treatment of asylum seekers or the failure of our leaders to do something about climate change.
And of course, Trishna and Krishna have been given the ultimate gift – life – which is certainly something money can’t buy.
So, to try and reduce the experience of the twins to economics is naïve and simplistic. In much the same way that saying dollars will fix poverty is uninspired.
To compare the cost of clean water and sanitation with the amount of money spent on cosmetic surgery in the USA in any one year is about as useless as comparing the number of children who could be immunized for the same cost as the twins’ separation.
The fact remains that people were willing to spend time and money on the twins but if I had approached those same people and asked them to donate that same amount of money to immunize thousands of faceless children in Bangladesh, they would not have supported me.
The money spent on the twins surgery did not take resources away from other deserving children. There was no simple tick box questionnaire with the option of reducing this question of cost to a simple moral question of prioritizing the lives of many over the lives of two.
To claim that helping the millions of people who live in abject poverty survive is less complex than what has been achieved for the twins is not only condescending. It is wrong.
Topping up bank accounts will not ‘solve’ the crisis of poverty. We need to do much more than that. $9 billion alone will not bring clean water and sanitation to the world’s poorest.
That may build the infrastructure, but who, then, will train the local communities on how to service their new toilet when it breaks, who will teach them more general messages about hygiene, who will build new toilets as populations grow and more people need services?
Money alone, without skills, technical assistance, research and ongoing support, is counterproductive.
Lack of clean water and adequate sanitation is the cause, but not the root cause, of more child deaths than malaria, HIV/AIDS and measles combined.
The root cause is the lack of capacity in governments, institutions and individuals, to address poverty in a holistic way.
The root cause is the lack of an education system to produce well-trained doctors and nurses, the lack of a national health institute that prioritises primary and preventative health care for women and children, it is the lack of infrastructure that means people can’t get to the hospital (if there is one) because there are no roads, no public transport systems, no telephones.
We can’t keep relying on technical solutions to problems of poverty. History has shown this does not work.
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