Blog Action Day 08: Poverty

Poverty anywhere is a threat to life everywhere.

This is a contribution to Blog Action Day 2008:

When someone is living in poverty he or she is struggling to sustain the basic requirements for life.  This means that this person has no opportunity to change his or her life because all of his or her effort is dedicated to satisfying those basic needs.

Hence a person living in poverty is cornered; death is the only retreat.  This at once makes a person in poverty dangerous because a person in poverty has nothing to lose.

Having nothing to lose but your life changes a person in ways hard to imagine.  Stories of people stranded come to mind.  Take a look at the product description for the book Alive:

On October 12, 1972, a plane carrying a team of young rugby players crashed into the remote, snow-peaked Andes. Out of the forty-five original passengers and crew, only sixteen made it off the mountain alive. For ten excruciating weeks they suffered deprivations beyond imagining, confronting nature head-on at its most furious and inhospitable. And to survive, they were forced to do what would have once been unthinkable …

This is their story — one of the most astonishing true adventures of the twentieth century.

Yes, the people had to eat each other.  My morbid sense of humor made me smirk that this is described as an adventure. Having nothing to eat in harsh weather conditions might seem like adventure while sitting in a comfortable chair, but when it is daily reality, it is just ordinary poverty.

Like adventure poverty is dangerous.  Unlike an adventure, poverty can be just as dangerous to those who are not the ones in direct danger of losing their lives.  When Cortez landed in Mexico he burned his ships so that his soldiers would know that there was no retreat – they were in essence shipwrecked – and hence would fight their hardest.  Not only was he trying to encourage his men to fight, he was trying to scare the Aztecs, who, he knew, would see the burning ships and know that they would be fighting people with nothing to lose.  The Aztecs retreated.

When there is nothing to lose desperation sets in, and there is no reasoning with the desperate.  What is there to say to someone whose child is starving to death?  So given the opportunity to escape such a situation, a person is willing to do and support things that the rest of us find unimaginable.


  1. Physical poverty of some implies a poverty of imagination of the rest.
  2. Poverty anywhere is a threat to life everywhere, always.