Blog Action Day – Poverty
October 15th, 2008 by Sonja

Blog Action Day graphic

Here it is … the end of the day.

I thought I had nothing.  Several bloggers I know had made me aware of this event and I’ve been thinking about it, but nothing came to mind.  And … I’ve been busier than a blue bottle fly as my grammy used to say.  So it just wasn’t happenin’ … no big deal.  I could let it pass without participating.  I’ve done that before.

But then I read two things.  This fact over at

“Americans spend 450 Billion dollars a year in Christmas. It is estimated that it would cost 10 billion dollars to SOLVE the clean water shortage around the planet that causes a majority of diseases in the third world.” and Crystal credits Troy Kennedy, who in turn quotes The Advent Conspiracy for the source of that information.

A short time later I read an article in the BBC that today is also World Handwashing Day sponsored by the United Nations.

The UN says it wants to get over the message that this simple routine is one of the most effective ways of preventing killer diseases.

Nearly half the world’s population do not have access to adequate sanitation.

The main concern seems to be cleaning one’s hands after using the bathroom and before food preparation and consumption.  That’s reasonable.  And it’s what we teach our children, for good reason.

It seems like a great idea.  But then I remember these stories from Jimmy Carter’s latest book (these quotes come from pages at the Carter Center website):

Onchocerciasis, also known as river blindness, is a disease affecting 18 million people in 37 countries worldwide. River blindness is transmitted by black flies, which deposit the larvae of the Onchocerca volvulus worm into the body. Over the course of a year, these larvae mature within the human host at which point the adult worms mate and the female worms release their embryonic microfilariae. These microfilariae cause debilitating itching and inflammation, and may eventually infiltrate the eye where they cause damage and diminished eyesight.  If left untreated, the infected person can become permanently blind.

The ancient Guinea worm parasite, while not usually fatal to its human hosts, can grow up to three feet long inside the body before emerging slowly through a blister on the flesh. The disease is contracted by drinking water that contains the microscopic Cyclops flea, which eats and carries parasitic Guinea worm larvae. In the host’s stomach, the flea is broken down, leaving the male and female worm larvae free to cruise undetected through the body until they find one another and mate. The male dies, while the impregnated female grows not fat but long before emerging blindly into the African sunshine some nine months to a year later, typically on the lower limbs. The emergence of “the fiery serpent” causes a painful burning sensation, often sending victims to the nearest water source to soak the sore, which begins the cycle anew: when it hits the water, the worm releases thousands of new larvae. 

I read that book a couple of years ago and the mental visages stuck with me.  It seemed as though washing one’s hands in water that might be infested like this would be spitting into the wind.  We think of washing our hands and the picture we get is of running water, clean sinks, drains and a clean town with which to dry our hands when we’re done.  But what if we only have pest infested water, or fetid rain water caught in a rusty barrel sitting around brooding mosquitos to wash our hands in?  Or to drink?

The numbers are huge and staggering.  So big that we cannot comprehend them.  The numbers of people dying, living blind, living poor, living hungry.  The amount of money it would take to change that is huge too.

It would take 2% of a Christmas.

About 1% of a financial crisis.

Would we wipe out poverty?  No.  But at least people would have clean water.  Then maybe they could start taking care of the rest of it themselves.    What if we put something besides small change aside?

But those numbers, those numbers are so damn big.  I can’t get my head around them.  There’s not a collection plate in the world that’s big enough.  Everyone is working on it, talking about it, moaning about it.  But at heart, we’re all still essentially selfish. We don’t want to give up our Christmases and our Wall Streets.

Until that changes, nothing else really will.

7 Responses  
  • Blog Action Day Wrap | TheGeoffRe(y)port writes:
    October 15th, 200810:44 pmat

    […] Ravine of Light (Sonia) – Blog Action Day – Poverty […]

  • Crystal Renaud writes:
    October 15th, 200811:48 pmat

    good word. and thanks for the link-back.

  • kouji haiku writes:
    October 16th, 20081:23 amat

    indeed. but every little bit helps, i believe.

    for my part, i turn to sites like freerice (rice donation), kiva (microfinance), and goodsearch (donation per search), as ways to help alleviate poverty online. i also put up their banners on my blog. :)

    saw this post via the blog action day site. it’s great that you’re participating. :)

  • Maria writes:
    October 16th, 200811:04 amat

    I read somewhere in the past few weeks, that the bailout proves that poverty can be attacked. After all, as you point out, it’s only 2% of what we spend on Christmas or 1% of a financial crisis. What’s missing is the will to spend a measly $10 billion.

  • Patrick O writes:
    October 17th, 20082:08 pmat

    The frustration, not argument against mind you, of all this is how much poverty isn’t always about money.

    I read a great book on the history of malaria a few months ago, and it underscored how much disease is a result of local policy more than inherent issues. Food is the same way. Zimbabwe is a great example of how policies and corruption completely undermined the most basic services and production.

    It’s not about money, altogether. Though, that’s no excuse not to participate, it is disheartening to realize how much money, help, provisions, go to fill the already bloated bank accounts of evil men and women who sit in palatial palaces while their people starve, encouraging the starvation because it brings in yet more resources.

    How do we fix that?

    I don’t know.

  • Sonja writes:
    October 17th, 20082:26 pmat

    That, Patrick, would be the problem of the inherent selfishness, that we have to deal with. The selfishness/greed is not all on our side of the equation, though I did not adequately make that clear.

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    January 7th, 200911:32 amat

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