Thursday, May 22, 2008

On Global Problems

Sometimes I get overwhelmed thinking about global-scale problems. There are so many people in the world and utter poverty is so rampant that it can seem insurmountable, and every once in a while I wonder if it's worth even trying (usually I convince myself that it is).

Take food, for example. The world food-cost crisis has been in the news a lot recently, and there are millions of people throughout the world who suffer from hunger and malnutrition. This makes me wonder: Is there even enough food in the world for all these people? Fortunately, there is: According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, global average food consumption is 2800 kcal/person/day, which is greater than the USDA recommend caloric intake for all but the most active young adult males. So, there seems to be enough food out there---it's just a matter of getting it to the right people, which feels like a much more tractable problem than increasing global food output (though I'm not quite sure why, given the resistance too many people have to sharing).

Generalizing from food to wealth in general, the picture isn't quite so rosy (if millions of hungry people could be called rosy): If we were to take the roughly $1.6 trillion of the richest 100 people in the world and divide it equally, everyone would receive only $270---not even a nucleus, much less a "nest egg." According to the CIA World Factbook, the gross world product (GWP) per capita is only $10,000 (PPP). In other words, unlike food, poverty in terms of lack of financial wealth isn't merely a distribution problem. Now, unfortunately, I'm not an economist, so I'm not quite sure where to look for possible solutions to this little (or not so little, rather) quandary. But, I imagine that increasing human capacity (through education) will play some vital role.

In order not to get too depressed when I think about how big the world's problems are, I usually have to scale down my perspective to think about where I am currently and what I can do on my own in the present. If you're looking for a way to help in the redistribution of food resources, may I recommend Food for the Poor. They "provide food, housing, health care, education, water projects, micro-enterprise development assistance and emergency relief to the poorest of the poor," and their budget is composed of 96% program expenses, placing them among the most efficient of charities.

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