Dec 20, 2004
Several United Nations agencies released their annual reports in December. Among all the figures reported in these documents, perhaps the most sobering is by UNICEF (United Nations Children's Fund): more than one billion, or almost half the world's children, are living in conditions of "extreme deprivation."
Some 640 million of these children lack adequate shelter, 400 million have no access to safe water, 270 million have no access to health care and 140 million – mostly girls – have never been to school. According to another report, published by the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization, five million children die of hunger every year.
Most of these children live in poor countries, and many are victimized by ongoing wars which disrupt the functioning of society. But many children live in dire poverty even though their parents work.
The working class in rich countries has not escaped growing impoverishment either. The UNICEF report pointed out that thepercentage of children living in poverty in 11 industrialized countries has also been increasing over the last decade. These countries include Germany, Italy and the Netherlands. But leading the pack is the United States, with childhood poverty worse than that of any other rich country. In the U.S. today, nearly one quarter of all children – 22% – live in poverty.
Why are the world's children getting poorer? The world's resources aren't diminishing. But those resources aren't being used for the world's people.
UNICEF reported that 40 to 70 billion dollars would be enough to effectively combat poverty worldwide. That's a tiny fraction of the 956 billion dollars that the world's governments officially spent on military expenses last year. The U.S. alone is responsible for more than half of that spending.
The money is certainly there. But those who need it to buy food and medicine don't have access to it. A small handful of people have hoarded the world's wealth, using it more and more on luxury, speculation and war.
That's the balance sheet of another year under capitalism: the rich have gotten richer, the poor have gotten poorer, and society has sunk deeper into violence and deprivation. Time to throw capitalism onto the garbage heap!