When I published The Life You Can Save: Acting Now to End World Poverty earlier this year, I was frequently asked if this isn’t the wrong time to ask affluent people to increase their efforts to end poverty in other countries. Emphatically not, I reply. There is no doubt that the world’s economy is in trouble. But for either governments or individuals to use this as an excuse to reduce assistance to the world’s poorest people would only multiply the seriousness of the problem for the world as a whole.
Without in any way minimizing the economic and psychological blow that people experience when they lose their jobs, there can be no doubt that the financial crisis has been more damaging for the poor than it has for the rich. The unemployed in affluent countries still have a safety net, in the form of social security payments and usually free health care and free education for their children. It goes without saying that they also have sanitation and safe drinking water. The poor in developing countries have none of these benefits, and for an estimated 18 million of them each year that proves fatal. That’s a higher annual death toll than the annual average during World War II, and it’s easier to prevent. Of those who die from avoidable, poverty-related causes, nearly 10 million of them, according to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), are children under five. They die from diseases such as measles, diarrhea, and malaria that are easy and inexpensive either to prevent or to treat.