Picking People Up By Their Bootstraps

April 5, 2014

My recent column on the basic necessities of human development


The Simple Things of Life

March 29, 2014

I think most people would agree that the recipe for success and advancement in the world is a mix of education, determination, hard work and of course a job. A little luck also doesn’t hurt.

But when it comes to the less developed world this recipe is not enough. Two of the major roadblocks to moving forward out of extreme poverty are tied to what we in the advanced world take for granted – electricity and clean water.

In Africa, for example, an estimated 1.2 billion people do not have electricity after dark or suffer from frequent brownouts, which means that the lights go on for perhaps only a few hours a day. What this translates into is that these poor people have no light to study or read a book, no means to preserve food, no power to turn on a radio or no means of cooling themselves with a fan during the mid-day heat. With sufficient and steady electrical power, African countries and the people who are at the bottom of the economic ladder would be able to move themselves up toward a better life.

Then there is sanitation. Toilets are something we take for granted, but again in many parts of the world a toilet that is not a makeshift outdoor shed does not exist. In India nearly half of its billion people do not have access to a modern toilet and if they do have a toilet many cities and towns do not have adequate sewage systems.

Each year over 750,000 children die from dehydration tied to diarrhea that comes from raw human sewage that enters the water supply. The United Nations and other non-governmental organizations are moving as quickly as possible to provide the poor of the world with this simple household device, the toilet. Unfortunately, this is an uphill battle with mixed results.

There are some positive developments in the those countries wracked by lack of electrical power and poor sanitation. The cell phone has literally transformed many part of the Africa, Asia and the Middle East. The cell phone is not just a means of mundane conversation and texting as it is here in the Unites States, but more importantly a business and banking tool allowing people to order supplies for their small business and to perform basic banking activities, both nagging problems because of poor roads and long distances to commercial hubs. Much of the recent economic success of some countries in the less developed world has been linked to the simple cell phone.

Certainly keeping poor people in school, stressing the value of hard work, and training them in new job skills remain the keys to moving out of poverty, but in our highly competitive world, the light bulb, the toilet and the cell phone are absolute necessities.