The first time I saw the statistic that 1.4 billion people around the world live on less than $1.25 a day I didn’t believe that it could be true. It is hard for anyone who hasn’t lived in extreme poverty to ascertain what it might be like to survive on only two small bowls of rice and vegetables each day.
To help residents of Australia, New Zealand, the United States, and the United Kingdom to develop a greater understanding of extreme poverty the Global Poverty Project operates the Live Below the Line campaign. Last week from the 7th-11th of May almost 3,000 people in the United Kingdom lived on £1 a day for 5 days, for all food and drink. While doing the challenge participants fundraised for one of 21 partner charities. The campaign was a great success and an excellent opportunity for many people to experience a taste of life in extreme poverty.
We should not underestimate the signifance of the campaign, as it seems that a lack of connection with extreme poverty diminishes interest in government contributions to international development. The National Priorities Project explains that in the United States many citizens feel that cutting the federal aid budget would help loosen the pressure of the financial crisis. American aid as a percentage of GNI is 0.21%, or around $56 billion in Obama’s 2013 budget request. This may sound like a lot of money but in the context of the projected $901 billion deficit for 2013, the figure is quite small.
The media regularly reminds us of the crisis in Somalia as they send the message that aid hinders development. Gerbert van der Aa explains that 66% of aid is harmful or has no positive benefit. While aid is not sustainable or desirable in the long term it can help kick start growth and pave the way for infrastructural developments. Leading economist Jeffery Sachs explains that aid has been instrumental in fostering much of the recent growth in developing countries. To promote growth in the developing world it is imperative that our government’s commitment to aid not be diminished.
That is why the Global Poverty Project led the Protect Point Seven campaign. Global Poverty Ambassadors, many of whom had previously participated in the Live Below the Line campaign, wrote to their MPs to elicit support for maintaining the UK government’s commitment to giving 0.7% of total GNI as development aid. Over 350 pictures and hundreds of letters were sent and several participants had the opportunity to personally thank Shadow Secretary of State for International Development Ivan Lewis MP and Secretary of State for International Development Andrew Mitchell MP. When the budget was announced, the Global Poverty Project was delighted to see that the current government has maintained their commitment to 0.7%.
Participating in the Live Below the Line campaign has transformed people’s impressions about the value of development aid and the role that the UK government must play in ending extreme poverty. Changing the way that people approach aid has extensive implications for the capacity of the UK government to address the structural problems that allow poverty to persist. For more information about the Live Below the Line campaign please visit www.livebelowtheline.com. You can still join the campaign and fundraise till the end of June.