Paul Thompson is team leader of BANZAid, part of NZBMS. He and his wife, Adrienne, were long-time tranzsend workers in Bangladesh.
BANZAid’s vision is “a world without poverty,” and our mission statement is about partnering with the poor to alleviate poverty. But what do broad statements like this mean?
First we need to define “the poor.” We’re talking about the bottom 20% of the world’s population. These are the people who live on less than $1.50 per day. That’s less than the price of a cup of hot coffee and half the cost of a cold ice cream.
Our perception of where the poor live changes with globalisation. It used to be that the majority of these people lived in the 70 or so poorest countries, nations close to economic collapse and sometimes referred to as economic basket-cases. Over the last decade, however, the economy of some of these countries has improved dramatically so that they are now classified as middle-income countries.
Unfortunately, the new wealth hasn’t reached those at the bottom. It is estimated that 72% of the “bottom billion” now live in what are officially middle-income countries, nations that we think of as economically viable.
The biggest examples are India and China. Both have seen amazing development but, despite becoming economic power-houses on the global scene, still have large numbers of people in extreme poverty.
This raises significant questions for aid and development policy. If a country like India can afford to run space programmes and set up their own aid programmes to help other countries, should they still be getting help from us? The Indian population now contains millionaires and even billionaires. Has the time come to stop aid to these countries and tell them to sort out their own issues of wealth distribution?
To answer “yes” ignores the issue of wealth distribution in our own country, where we also have a growing gap between the top and the bottom. The Occupy protests highlighted this without finding solutions. Until wider solutions are found, we need more targeting of aid to reach specific communities – not aid to poor countries but aid to poor people.
This is what organisations like BANZAid are best at. We target specific communities and needs. Whether in city slums or rural villages, we support education and health needs, and establish programmes to help people access economic opportunities.
Visit the BANZAid website and Facebook page for discussion of the issues and to see the projects we are currently working on – www.banzaid.org.nz.