UNICEF publishes a wonderful resource called, “State of the World’s Children” that analyzes statistics and trends around the world and provides pages and pages of statistics and data on many topics in almost every country in the world. It is fascinating reading, at least for me.
When you hear someone talk about the “poorest country in the world”, how do they know? I have heard that claim about 3 different nations this week. If you look simply at GNI per capita (Gross National Income per person), Malawi (our neighboring country) is the poorest. 71% of that nation lives on less than $2/day. Zambia’s GNI is over 6 times that rate! But 64% of Zambians live on less than $2/day. In Haiti, the rate is 54%. Zambia’s wealth disparity is one of the worst 10 in the world (meaning that the wealthy few hold most of the resources in the country), and it’s inflation rate is 24%.
Nice numbers to know, but what does it mean? Simply, Zambia is not the worst economic country in the world. But it’s not the best.
I work some in the world of nutrition. There are primarily two ways to measure hunger of the general population: wasting and stunting. Both are horrible and life-threatening. In Haiti, 5% of children are wasting and 22% stunted. In India, the rates are 15% and 39%, respectively. Malawi is a disheartening 4% and 42%. Zambia is 15% and 40%. Again, not the worst, but amongst the worst. Moreover, this number means over one million children in Zambia suffer from severe hunger.
We are heavily involved in HIV/AIDS work. The charts say that Zambia’s HIV rate is 12.6%, and that is accurate for the tested population. But the testing rate is only about 35% here, and is around 11% of the at-risk population. The rate in Lusaka is 21%, and Livingstone is 25%. The highest risk factor for women in Zambia is marriage. Let me repeat that: a woman’s greatest risk of acquiring HIV is from the man she marries. And the morals and lifestyle that have prevented the spread of HIV in other countries (fidelity and serial monogamy) don’t protect women here even within the church.
The numbers do help paint a picture. But they are not enough. Everyday, I see faces that live this reality. Women who were infected by their husband with HIV, who are now widowed and struggling. Even with ART treatment, other healthcare is hard to find, and nutrition to have the energy to work while on the treatment is financially prohibitive. Just getting the government and aid-provided medication means taking a full day off work or off finding work to sit at the clinic and hope you get a full month’s supply of medication. And it’s easy to tell people to find work, but under-and-unemployment rates hover around 65% here! A popular NGO option with widows is to train them to be tailors and give them a sewing machine. But, in Lusaka, the market for tailors is saturated! (Not to mention the broken machines that can’t be repaired because, as we say, Africa likes to break things.). Another popular option is selling jewelry and other gift products to overseas markets. But, Zambia, in particular, is a land-locked country which makes exports difficult and expensive. And rolled-paper bead necklaces are ubiquitous. Shipping in food is a great option for feeding hungry kids! But many organizations in Zambia have been prohibited by the government from bringing in containers of food right now, and doing so also undermines the local market, furthering the cycle of poverty. Universal solutions are not working.
It’s easy for me, in my house, with food in the pantry and medicines in the cabinet, to be overwhelmed with the situation. There is no easy solution to these problems, and global action must be taken. But the billions of dollars that has been poured into Africa have not effected poverty eradication. Frankly, it would be easier if we just focused on presenting the Gospel without the burden of economic empowerment. But I can’t look away. Jesus had more to say about money and what we own than about any other subject. He cares about the souls of His children, but He also loves their entire being, including their minds and bodies. When the four friends brought Him the paralyzed man, Jesus could have forgiven His sins and not healed Him. But He did both: physical and spiritual healing.
“What good is it, dear brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but don’t show it by your actions? Can that kind of faith save anyone? Suppose you se a brother or sister who has no food or clothing, and you say, ‘Good-bye and have a good day; stay warm and eat well’— but then you don’t give that person any food or clothing. What good does that do?” James 2:14-16
“We have to remember that our material wealth is worth very little in the kingdom of God, and it is not really ours to keep in the first place.” -Derek W. Engdahl
How do I demonstrate that love? How do I use what I have been given to love them like He would? How do I help without paternalism and with justice? “Doing good does not excuse us from doing better.” I haven’t figured out the answer yet. And I will probably never completely understand the answer to eradicate poverty because, I believe, it will not exist until His kingdom comes. Injustice did not begin today, so my small acts of obedience will not end it today. Until then, I will look up and keep learning, talking, and working.