Archive for the ‘Unmet Social Needs’ Category

In some circles it has become politically acceptable to state that poverty cannot be eradicated in our lifetime: that the means are not available, that there is a lack of political will, or even that those who “can’t keep up” need to assume more responsibility for their own lives. Others are politically correct enough not to say any of this aloud, yet their actions (or lack thereof) expose them. Even the Millennium Development Goals call only for a halving of the proportion of people who suffer from hunger. In other words, the international community will consider itself successful if by 2015 “only” about 500 million people are left starving in the world (a target we do not look set to meet).

I would ask those who do not believe we can eradicate hunger to travel to the developing world — better yet, to travel to the slums of their own countries — and meet some of the close to one billion people who currently go hungry every day. Meet these people so that numbers become faces and faces receive names. After bearing witness to the suffering and even the deaths of these people, they might then find the means to make poverty history. It can be done; there is still enough food on this planet to feed all of us, it is how this food is allocated that needs changing.

In the meantime, while 50,000 people die from preventable causes daily, what we need is the universal will to make change. October 17 is the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty and this year the call is for Climate Justice to End Poverty. 

Because climate change causes drought, floods and other natural disasters that affect food production, it has become one of the greatest threats to reducing poverty, advancing global development and realizing human rights that the world has ever seen.

Two years ago, Kofi Annan’s Global Humanitarian Forum estimated that 300,000 people had died of the results of climate change. It’s a good bet that close to all of these people were among the world’s poor and were least responsible for the climate chaos we find ourselves in.

The year 2010 looks to be the hottest ever recorded and predictions for the coming years are grim: warmer temperatures, less and more erratic rainfall and more extreme weather events. The list of what we can expect as a result of increased global warming is frightening: resource scarcities, unstable weather conditions and higher food prices. Most people living in the developed world, have so far been spared most of the more dangerous phenomena, but we are reaching a point in time when fewer of us will be able to escape climate change related ravages; we are, for example, already effected by higher food prices. 

Last Sunday during the world’s first ever Global Work Party on climate change, organised by a range of activist groups, including the tcktcktck campaign, 350.org, Greenpeace and the Global Call to Action Against Poverty, people in 188 countries took part in over 7,000 events meant to establish new habits that will help curb the carbon emissions that cause climate change. The Global Work Party was a cry to governments that people want action, that enough is enough. We will not sit idly by and watch as our planet and millions of the people who live on it are slowly destroyed because those in power would not make the changes necessary to curb catastrophic climate change and help eradicate poverty.

History teaches us that when decent people take risks and engage in struggle for principles, peacefully and courageously, pursuing civil disobedience where necessary, then those who occupy the instruments of power, whether in government or in the financial sectors, will listen and understand. Last weekend was a good first step, but it will take an unprecedented alliance of people from all walks of life to force fundamental changes in the institutions that are holding us back: from environmentalists, faith-based organizations, human rights activists, trade unions, educators and those on both the left and the right who have never considered how the natural world affects their lives. 

We must work in the places where the actions causing climate change can be reduced — in our own homes and workplaces as well as the rainforests of Brazil, Congo and Indonesia and the coal mines of West Virginia and Poland. We must direct much more of our resources to the developing world for training in how to adapt to the irreversible consequences of the climate change already under way.

I have seen people die from completely preventable causes and wouldn’t wish the experience on anyone. By eradicating poverty and hunger, and vigorously addressing climate change, many such deaths may be prevented. Hopefully politicians will learn to act before it is too late.


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In the Singapore Straits Times recently, it was reported that there were 401 suicides last year compared to 364 a year ago – more than one a day. Samaritans of Singapore identified the 20-29 age group as “high risk” – 51 took their own lives, almost double the number from a year before. The increasing rate of suicides, especially among the young, is an increasing problem of developed societies like Singapore.
                I personally struggle with why these people who are jut beginning life are so desperate as to take their own lives. I wish I can advise them otherwise.
                Some friends of mine suggest that perhaps some are badly in debt and cannot see their future as bankrupts. Or they may be heartbroken over unrequited love. Or they may not want to face up to mistakes they have made. We all make mistakes but we should learn from our mistakes and get on with life.
                I believe that it is the feeling of self worth that makes a person do foolish things. We need to have a greater sense of self worth. The worst thing a person can do is to depend on other people’s perception for their worth. Doing that is allowing other people, including those with bad values, to define who we should be. It should always start with each of us. We should look at ourselves and start counting our blessings.
                The majority of us with the blessing of sight, hearing and mobility should realize that it places us way ahead of the many who are disabled. If persons with disabilities can face the challenges of living, then surely those of us with sight, hearing and mobility can do better.
                Do we judge ourselves by our possessions?  What is the use of having lots of material things but to be heavily indebted because of the overuse of credit? During the economic recession, the richest people were those who were debt free or had little debt. After all, one does not need much to have a decent life. It is not the material things which bring happiness. There are few things which we need in order to have a life – nourishment, shelter, and clothing are the main items. Most other things like cars, big houses, annual holidays and branded goods are nice to have, but they are not essential.
                People allow themselves to feel depressed when their relationships break up. They are heartbroken. That surely is self inflicted torture. Usually depression results from having formed a crutch on another individual and then feeling betrayed, feeling regret from that attachment. Love cannot be forced on others. We should love freely and true love should not be conditional upon the response.
                I find it tough to imagine what can possibly be so bad as to drive a person to suicide. I may go into a period of depression and desperation if I were to suddenly lose my sight. But I will eventually snap out of it and get on with life. After all there are millions of visually impaired persons coping well with life.
                I wish everyone will start off the day counting their blessings and be grateful for them. Waking up in the morning with sight, hearing and mobility should be enough to make us happy and be mentally ready to face the challenges out there. Mental states are usually a reflection of our choice of thoughts. Why choose depressing thoughts when there are so many things to be happy about. Live mindfully. Appreciate that cup of coffee, bowl of noodles, the smile of a child, the wave of a neighbour – we are surrounded by happiness. The sprouting of a new blade of grass gives hope as it is life after being trodden on. A butterfly bursting through its cocoon, tadpoles hatching from eggs almost invisible to the eyes, – there is life all around us.
                I wish I can tell those who commit suicide before they do: Don’t give up your life just like that.

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The work of the social sector has been to identify and seek solutions to unmet social needs, primarily from the ground up. Macro approaches to identifying these needs are few and far between. The UN’s Millennium Development Goals represents the most coherent global strategy thus far for tackling worldwide poverty.

                Looking holistically at global human needs through history, we can identify two broad levels of needs. The traditional basic needs of food, water, and health are intertwined with the causes and consequences of poverty. Higher-order needs are those that affect human prosperity and well-being, principally modern-day needs arising from human displacement, environmental challenges, and the problems of developed societies.

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