The poor will rise up

November 25, 1997|By Jack L. Levin

I DO NOT know Mr. Ted Turner, and certainly have no way of knowing why he donated a billion (a thousand-million!) dollars to the United Nations for human needs. But I hope his reasons include the following motivations:

To compel us to see and deal with the extreme poverty that we drive through blindly on our mean streets and the scenes of people dying of hunger, thirst and disease we glimpse briefly on television.

To induce the world's haves to make comparably substantial contributions toward reducing the economic injustice confronting the have-nots.

With the values of individual and corporate estates swollen due to improved economies, what a rare opportunity there is to persuade others to follow Mr. Turner's inspiring example. To this end, every multi-millionaire and billionaire should be visited by representatives of the U.N. and human rights organizations.

A serious campaign is called for. Its goal should be not the elimination of poverty, but the opening of public health clinices, drug treatment centers and schools to teach basic literacy and skills.

Friends in need

A prominent U.N. official, perhaps a former U.N. secretary general, should be named to develop and direct the campaign along lines respectfully submitted as follows:

To differentiate it from the political character of most U.N. activities and to stress its concentration on serving desperate human needs, the new initiative might be called "The United Nations Friend-In-Need Foundation."

FIN connotes a "FINish" to human distress and the maxim, "A friend in need is a friend indeed."

A first step should be production of a simple, concise statement of the origin, goals and methods of the campaign. Credit should be given to Mr. Turner, but not excessive praise, which egotistical prospective donors (PDs) might resent.

Using the July 29, 1997, Forbes magazine as an excellent source, a computer file should be compiled containing the name of the PD, his or her country, net worth in millions and a brief biography. This file should also contain the name of a confidant -- a distinguished citizen known to be a friend of the PD, who would accompany the U.N. FIN representative on visits or conference calls to the PD.

If and when a decision is reached by the PD, an announcement would be issued to international media and a U.N. FIN certificate would be presented, along with a letter of appreciation from the president of the particular country.

The solicitation of the richest would be followed by the same modus operandi in approaching mere multi-millionaires, so there will be many more PDs than those listed in Forbes.

The expense would be great, but justified by the growing urgency of reducing extreme suffering. The faces of starving, dying young people will not forever characterize world poverty. Future generations will surely be less passive, less resigned to die and better equipped to revolt. Many of them will be literate, attuned to television, the computer, the Internet and knowledge not necessarily learned in school.

Haves could be confronted everywhere by have-nots who are not ready to die quietly. Some of them will have no reason to refrain from using formidable armaments that are becoming available to anyone with cash.

A Russian general recently reported that 83 suitcase-sized atomic bombs have vanished into the black market, each capable of destroying an entire metropolitan area. The U.S., China and Russia are competing feverishly in sales of sophisticated weaponry to third-world nations.

Rising rage

The despairing poor now are worse off than their predecessors. They are non-persons in cultures of consumers. They are taunted and humiliated by daily barrages of advertising of goods they know they cannot ever afford. They do not count as citizens or humans.

Their rage keeps rising underground. They may have not erupted in many years, but some of us in their path had better get out of the way.

Personal income is distributed less equally in the poorer nations than in wealthier ones. For example, the U.S. had a per capita GNP of about $25,800 in 1994. For the same period, most developing nations had a per capita GNP of less than $3,000, and many had a per capita GNP of only a few hundred dollars. According to The Hunger Project, one-fifth of the world's 5.8 billion people live in abject poverty.

Many will not accept forever the fact that 20 percent of the population receives more than 40 percent of its wealth. They will rebel against the discrepancy between the minuscule income of an ordinary worker and the astronomical share of management.

Haves and have-nots

In Malaysia, Robert Kuok sits on a fortune of over $10 billion. In Thailand, King Bhumibol Adulyadej has an estate worth $1.8 billion. In Indonesia, Mohamad Hasan is worth more than $3 billion. In Ecuador, Alvara Nalboa checks in with $1.5 billion. In all these countries, nearly half of the population is among the world's poorest.

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