Of the 49 poorest countries in the world, which the powers-that-be call the "least developed countries", or LDCs, 33 are in
Africa, 15 in Asia Pacific and 1 in Latin America.
The country that sits at the very bottom of the league tables which measure GDP is, maybe unsurprisingly, given what has already
been said, the Democratic Republic of Congo. To give a measure of its poverty and using the World Bank's figures for 2010 - the
GDP per head (measured according to "purchasing power parity") is $345, compared with Britain's $36,000 per head. In Kinshasa
you are 100 times poorer than here.
Yet the vast, 2.3m sq km, DRC is probably, from the point of view of natural resources, one of the very richest regions in the
world - in the lush heart of Africa, straddling the equator, with green rain forests, mighty rivers, massive mountain ranges and
the most abundant tropical fruit, wildlife and geological treasures, many still undiscovered...
It provides almost 80% of the world's coltan production - a mineral ore vital for microtechnology. But this "development" is
precisely why DRC is going through its worst period of “un-development” in its history so far - and why the east of the
country has become one of the most unsafe places in the world for the poor to be - whether for workers in the mining industry or
villagers scraping a living by subsistence farming in the forest clearings.
Today, 3 out of 5 Congolese are living on less than $1.25 (90 pence) a day, the UN measure of severe poverty. 70% in rural
areas don't have clean drinking water. A third of children under 5 are severely malnourished. Roads are unpassable and
railways dilapidated. The whole DRC has only 1,746 miles of paved roads. A 50-mile trip can take up to 7 hours by car. But
don't worry too much - as we will later explain, British and European construction companies are taking care of the much needed
Looking at the big - picture - of the 7bn or so people living in this world of ours, it is a little hard to know exactly how
many are really living in poverty because the data is so poor. The UN's latest Millennium Development Goals report (November
2011) claimed that compared to 1990, when 1.8bn were living on less than $1.25 a day, in 2005 - this had fallen to 1.4bn. But
since then, there has been the 2008 spike in food prices that reduced many more people to starvation. It's probably not wrong
to estimate that a third of the world's population doesn't have enough to eat. What the UN can say is that for instance
in South Asia, between 1995 and 2009 (15 years), "there was no meaningful improvement" in the prevalence of
undernourishment among the poorest households. In Sub-Saharan Africa, and South Asia, there is the highest child mortality -
between 1 in 8 and 1 in 14 (compared to 1 in 150 in the "developed" world).
Access to sanitation - which is not one of the UN's development goals, even if it is fundamental to health - is probably a much
better indicator of "development". In the Asia Pacific region, where 60% of the world's population lives, 1.8 billion people -
or 45% of the region’s population has no access! In this region as a whole (it stretches from Turkey to New Zealand and
includes Siberia) poverty was apparently reduced by more than half before the millennium: those in poverty fell from 50% in 1990
to 22% in 2000. But since the region includes countries where few live at this dire level of poverty - like South-Korea - but
also countries like Nepal, where 55% live on less than $1.25 a day, what use is such a revelation? Taking the average for
infant mortality of 36 deaths per 1,000 live births for the region again, there is a huge gap between the 103 deaths in
Afghanistan and the 10 or less in the region's richer countries.
Indeed, the main feature of the last decade and especially the last 5 years, is the huge and widening disparity between rich and
poor countries and the same phenomenon affecting the population inside all countries - huge and widening disparities between the
rich and poor. And despite all of the developments in every aspect of science and technology, the way the world is organised
means that technology and iPads are absolutely useless to the vast majority of the earth's peoples.
Let's explain what we mean: after the albeit very exceptional earthquake in Haiti 2 years ago, 1.5m were left homeless. Today,
520,000 are still living in tents! And now cholera is their biggest enemy, because they have no direct access to proper
sanitation nor clean water. In the capital, Port-au-Prince, 20,000 people are camped right in front of the presidential palace
on the "Champs de Mars". Nearby is ironically named Camp Red Carpet, where 14,000 people share just 6 latrines. Just south of
the town is Camp Jericho where 5,000 live, sharing 18 latrines. Water is brought by trucks to these camps; stored in tanks or
dispensed directly. In Jericho camp, Oxfam stopped distributing free water to people a few months ago - the policy is to let
the people "take over and run things themselves" so now they must buy it by the bottle, even if most people don't have jobs, let
alone money to buy water!! It provides "a job", but not many customers, to the water seller of course...
Most of the 10,000 NGOs which operated at the peak of the earthquake crisis have left - run out of money, lost interest, or
simply disappeared. In the meantime the cholera epidemic continues, spread precisely by dirty water and lack of sanitation. An
estimated 7,000 people have died from it. This January, the deputy director of the Pan American Health Organization, said that
as of December, on top of the deaths, the Haitian government had reported more than 520,000 cholera cases with 200 new sufferers
appearing each day. (He) said it was "one of the largest cholera outbreaks in modern history to affect a single
country...There are also 21,000 cases in the neighbouring Dominican Republic where there have been 363 deaths.. ... Haiti
needed a huge campaign to improve its supply of drinking water which various international institutions had estimated could cost
between $746 million and $1.1 billion."
So would that be difficult to do? Why wasn't it done initially? A cholera epidemic is a well-known risk and was recognised as
such in Haiti before it even appeared! Yet the so-called "international community" apparently spent $2.4 billion in
"humanitarian aid in response to the quake". But it is anyone's guess where it all went, since it was all being administered by
the uncoordinated 10,000 strong "free market" of private NGOs from around the world. That should provide as strong a case as
any against seeing the development of the huge NGO industry as some kind of positive phenomenon - it is rather a symptom of
bankruptcy, not only of the system, but also its charitable approach to alleviating suffering.
It is the case that generally speaking, throughout the poor world, dirty water and lack of sanitation are big problems -
exacerbating endemic famine in Somalia and Ethiopia and now Mauritania - but then the whole of the Sahel region is desertified.
Capture of water and desalination would be necessary to solve the problem, but while technically possible, the cost under
capitalism would never allow it. Just as it doesn't even allow the further piping of water in Britain where there is a regular
"drought" in the east Midlands and south while there is regular flooding in the north-west and Wales!