Last Updated: Tue Nov 02, 2010 17:26 pm (KSA) 14:26 pm (GMT)

Financial crisis overshadows 2 billion people

Two billion people worldwide struggle to survive on less than two dollars a day. (File)
Two billion people worldwide struggle to survive on less than two dollars a day. (File)

As governments approve billion dollar economic bailouts in an effort to control the recent stock market meltdown, proponents of other urgent measures questioned on World Poverty Day why two billion people worldwide are ignored as they struggle to survive on less than two dollars a day.

For those living on such meager amounts the crisis is not a matter of high prices or market losses but rather one of survival as was highlighted Thursday on World Food Day, a day to mark a crisis that is tipping millions toward starvation.

"Falling stock markets have monopolized the world's attention, turning it away from the poorest countries," said Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak's wife, Suzanne, a "patron" of the United Nation’s food-related activities.

Even citizens of wealthy countries are feeling the pinch of high prices but "for those who live on less than a dollar a day, it's a matter of life and death," said World Food Program Executive Director Josette Sheeran.

Soaring prices will increase the number of malnourished people in the world by 44 million this year to reach a total of 967 million, while more than 100 million have been driven into extreme poverty, according to World Bank figures.

Moral responsibility

Despite the recent financial crisis and the failure of world organizations to pull together to help those in dire need, a recent poll by WorldPublicOpinion.org showed that the majority of people said they would be willing to contribute towards cutting hunger and severe poverty in half by 2015, a key U.N. Millennium Development Goal.

The U.N. food agency's chief said only a tenth of the $28 billion (22 billion euros) promised in assistance for food and agriculture pledged for 2008 has reached the agency.

"Despite enthusiastic speeches and financial commitments, we have received only a tiny part of what was pledged," Jacques Diouf said.

According to the World Public Opinion poll, an average of eight out of 10 people agreed that developed countries "have a moral responsibility to help reduce hunger and severe poverty in poor countries."

In Kenya, for eample, an overwhelming 92 percent said developed nations are morally responsible for poverty. In the Palestinian Territories, however, people were split, with only 50 percent holding them responsible.

The poll, which surveyed 16,370 people in 20 nations, showed the majority of participants were willing to pay a specific amount per person in order to meet the 2015 goal and said they would pay the sum as long as people in other countries participated as well.

The amount per person was based on national income and ranged between $56 in the United States, $49 in Great Britain and $10 in Turkey.

Some of the nations polled include the United States, Jordan, Indonesia, Egypt, Great Britain, Kenya, the Palestinian Territories and Turkey.

Bank bailout vs Poverty bailout

With the world's attention focused on the stock markets the world's richest nations were slammed for not showing the same urgency to save people from starvation as they did when rushing to rescue banks.

"My position is that the financial crisis is a serious one that deserves urgent attention and focus, but so is the question of hunger and millions (are) likely to die,” said former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan. “Is that any less urgent?"

Prices of wheat, rice, maize and other staples in the developing world have all risen dramatically this year, crippling the ability of the poor to feed themselves, said aid group Oxfam.

"It is shocking that the international community has failed to organize itself to respond adequately" to the food and energy crisis, said Barbara Stocking, head of Oxfam.

"The media have highlighted the financial crisis at the expense of the food crisis," said Jacques Diouf, head of the U.N.'s Food and Agriculture Organization in Rome.

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