That’s about $2.35-2.40 Canadian, depending on the day.
I came across this number in the news last week. It was in a story about Madagascar and the latest outbreak of plague there. Yes, plague. As in The Black Death from the Middle Ages. Turns out it’s still around. The World Health Organization estimates there’s 1,000-2,000 cases per year around the world.
Madagascar accounted for 82% of the deaths from plague worldwide between 2010 and 2015. The October 5 CBC News article said that “the WHO calls the plague a disease of poverty because it thrives in places with unsanitary conditions and inadequate health care. Madagascar is one of the poorest countries in the world. UNICEF estimates around 82 per cent of the population of 25 million lives below the international poverty line, meaning they live on less than $1.90 US a day.”
$1.90 US a day.
That started me reading more about poverty and there’s a lot to read about poverty. There’s different definitions and measures, absolute and relative poverty, debates about the impossibility of setting a single standard when economies are so diverse. Criticism, too, of this arbitrary $1.90 US set by the World Bank. Their figure is based on the poverty lines of the 15 poorest countries of the world and reflects the minimum income necessary to purchase essential resources (averaged over a year) for an adult in those economies. And they’re applying it globally. That means that they’re applying $1.90 US to countries where the economy is strong enough for it to be higher - much higher - and then compiling statistics on poverty that look better than they ought and using those as the basis for programs and aid.
(In Canada, by the way, we don’t have an “official” poverty line because, like most developed nations, no one can really agree on a specific definition and terms. There’s Low Income Measure, Low Income Cut Off and Market Based Measure for starters, though LIM is the one most used for international comparisons because it’s based on the line being 50% of the median income of the country.)
This is a huge and complex issue - and I haven’t even mentioned child poverty. I’m not an economist, I couldn’t cover it all if I wanted to, I don’t have room here anyway, but I brought it up for a specific reason. Please learn more about poverty, both locally and around the world, and what you can do to help. And then please help.
I bring it up because I want you to recognize that $1.90 US, like much of how we, in wealthier countries, handle poverty, is based on providing the bare minimum to keep someone alive. It doesn’t give them a life.
I bring it up because being poor isn’t just a numbers game, especially when those numbers are often determined by people who’ve never experienced poverty.
I bring it up because October 16 is World Food Day and so many people are hungry. I bring it up because October 17 is the UN’s International Day for the Eradication of Poverty and so many people are poor.
I bring it up because there’s this weird and quirky story that Jesus tells in Matthew’s gospel about a wedding feast. A king invites his neighbours to a wedding feast for his son. They ignore the invitation, so he sends messengers a second time and this time they kill the messengers and outright refuse. In response, the king sends his armies, kills them and destroys their cities. He then sends his servants into the streets to invite anyone to come. They do, and all is going well until the king sees someone who’s not properly dressed for a wedding. He orders him thrown out and pronounces “many are called but few are chosen.”
Alright, that’s a little unsettling. But it’s meant to be. This is the third parable Jesus tells about the kingdom of heaven and I think what this one might say to us is that God calls to everyone and we all answer differently. Not everyone hears, some hear and don’t want to follow, and for those that do, the kingdom of heaven is like a great feast.
But. This isn’t just about hearing and following, it’s about transformation, it’s about participation, it’s about being “all in.” In the story, it’s not enough to just show up, you need to party. Why? Because God doesn’t just want us to know the kingdom of heaven, but to take part in it; Jesus doesn’t just want us to know that we are loved, he wants us to love; the Spirit doesn’t just warm our hearts, it empowers us to action. This is about doing what we say and acting on what we believe.
I bring it up, because we can, and should, do more than offer the bare minimum. We can do more than a $1.90 US per day.