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Caught in a downturn

Right. So, I know that the economic downturn has affected rich people in rich countries. And rich people in poor countries. In fact, its been a personal shock for many — families have lost jobs, savings, stocks, property and they are very worried about their future. But what about poor people? Do they live in a reality so far removed, that they are not going to be affected by it at all?

I was in Bangladesh when Lehman Brothers collapsed. I went to visit families who’d survived cyclone Sidr. I was struck by how those kids lived in a constant state of shock. Their poverty was the first shock. The cyclone was the second. This downturn will be the third, and I am afraid that it will push them over the edge.

In Mongolia, I met kids live on the streets and sleep in manholes to stay warm. They get tips from rich folks who go to bars and nightclubs. Street life is rough there, and the kids fight each other every day for money. The downturn means that rich people will have less to spend, that the kids will have more to fight about, and that they will have so much less of a chance to fight the cold, or get a proper meal, or get to school. 

When incomes come down and spending slows then governments tend to slash budgets, and schools, hospitals and institutions everywhere will have less money to spend all round. Already, there are children depending on what governments can provide as a safety net. Kids like Shankar, four, from Rajasthan, India, who was malnourished, and needed to be connected to a government health programme to get nourised back to full health.

I also met Wafa, only six days old, battling for her life in a government facilty in Pakistan. Wafa had acute diarrhoea, but she was being fed infant milk substitutes, something that’s openly advertised in her country despite a ban. How will her government find the resources to keep battling this problem if the money vanishes?

If there is a depression, or if the upswing takes a long time coming, then will kids like Shankar and Wafa also just vanish? Are my thoughts getting caught in a downturn, too?

I heard that the World Bank estimates that nearly 3 million more children could die as a result of the financial crisis by 2015. Somehow, we have to prevent this from happening. I dont want ours to be the generation that walks away from this problem.

We’ve got to stand together, fight the odds, for it to happen.

I met Basira in conflict-torn Afghanistan. A pre-teen, her mother and sisters have cut her hair short. Practically no girls have short hair in her neighbourhood. Why did they do it? So she can dress like a boy to go into a market full of men, to sell bread!! The income feeds many mouths at home. Basira also goes to school, where her class is held under the open sky, because she wants to be a doctor. Basira and her family haven’t lost sight of their goals, despite the odds. I’ll never forget meeting Basira. If she can do it, why can’t we?

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