Monday, August 30, 2010

The View from my Bicycle [COLUMN]

If you're reading this, you're in Heaven - by Nick van der Leek

Over the weekend I meant to do a running race at a venue I've never been to before, outside the city of Port Elizabeth. Uitenhage is a backwoods, industrial city that is really just a collection of massive auto-factories. Imagine giant sized car lots and buildings that look like massive shopping malls.

In any event, I couldn't find the 5km race but what I did find was another side to Port Elizabeth. An undulating sea of squatter camps, low quality suburban sprawl and grey, dusty squalor. It reminds me of something seen in the insect kingdom. A beehive would be a compliment. A termite's nest is closer, but even termite's live in cleaner, neater conditions. Everyone knows that around a termite mound there is nothing. Trees, bushes, blades of grass have been chewed or trampled until the area is simply coalesced mud occupied by a single species. This begs the question - where do these people find food? Because from the highway there's no other structure in sight. No shopping malls, no cinemas, no stadiums.

On my way back to Port Elizabeth I thought about my home in the suburb of Summerstrand. It's not Clifton, but it's the most in demand suburb to live, and if you don't live there, it's where people go for r&r, for surfing or riding bikes, or to run, or to walk the dog, or to take the family for a picnic.

I'm no longer a religious person, but I think the idea of Heaven is fairly innate in all of us. Few of us, even wealthy, sincere Christians, pause to consider that their situation, their circumstances, are Heavenly in comparison to the lot of the majority of citizens on this planet. Consider this:

- less than 1 billion of almost 7 billion people on the planet own cars
- 80% of humanity lives on less than $10 a day
- 24 000 people die each day from poverty
- Nearly a billion people entered the 21st century unable to read a book or sign their names
- Some 1.1 billion people in developing countries have inadequate access to water, and 2.6 billion lack basic sanitation.

If that's too much to consider or even imagine, then imagine this. Every second child in the world is living in poverty. That's hunger every day. That's being vulnerable to the predations of the poor, which include child rape, violence, abuse, disease and death.

The world's richest 20% of the population consume 76% of the world's resources. So here's how you know if you live in heaven:
- if you drive a car
- if you own a home
- if you go on family holidays each year
- if you have had your education, including college, paid for

You're in heaven. Appreciate it. Be generous, or at least consider those who are always on the outside looking in.

Consider the global priorities in spending in 1998

Global Priority $U.S. Billions

Cosmetics in the United States 8

Ice cream in Europe 11

Perfumes in Europe and the United States 12

Pet foods in Europe and the United States 17

Business entertainment in Japan 35

Cigarettes in Europe 50

Alcoholic drinks in Europe 105

Narcotics drugs in the world 400

Military spending in the world 780

And compare that to what was estimated as additional costs to achieve universal access to basic social services in all developing countries:

Global Priority $U.S. Billions

Basic education for all 6

Water and sanitation for all 9

Reproductive health for all women 12

Basic health and nutrition 13

No comments: