Blog Action Day 2008 - Poverty

I just stumbled across Blog Action Day, which their site describes as:

Blog Action Day is an annual nonprofit event that aims to unite the
world’s bloggers, podcasters and videocasters, to post about the same
issue on the same day. Our aim is to raise awareness and trigger a
global discussion.

This year, blog action day is about poverty, and today is the day. I can’t think of a better cause, so here’s are some of my thoughts and some links.

Poverty goes by various definitions. In the United States, there’s an actual “official” poverty line set by the government, which varies by the number of people in the family and whether you’re in the contiguous us or Alaska or Hawaii (see this Wikipedia entry). For a family of 3 in the contiguous US, it’s $17,600 income per year.

A more traditional definition runs along these lines:

The quality or state of being poor or indigent; want or scarcity of means of subsistence; indigence; need.

All of my various charitable donations tend to go overseas - International Red Cross, Doctors Without Borders, etc. It is not that I belive there aren’t people in the US that are in need, as there certainly are, and the number in need is continuing to grow. It’s just that the impoverished of most nations on Earth would give their right arms to be the impoverished in the US. When is the last time you heard of poor people in the US starving to death? Our health care system is horrific, but if you’re poor and willing to spend a day or two in an ER, you will eventually see a doctor, and perhaps even get medicine. The next time you pour yourself a glass of water, stop and look at it for a minute. In may nations in the world, a glass of clean water is a rare blessing.

But the act of charity, regardless of its target, is the most important thing. Lending a hand to someone in need is a gift to both the giver and the receiver. One of my favorite quotes from Dr. King is plastered on a sidewalk in San Diego:

In the final analysis, the rich must not ignore the poor because both rich and poor are tied in a single garment of history.  All life is interrelated, and all men are interdependent. The agony of the poor diminishes the rich, and the salvation of the poor enlarges the rich.  We are inevitably our brother’s keeper because of the interrelated structure of reality.

I can’t think of any better way to say it.

One way to help fight poverty in my field is with free and open source software. Open source software frees money that can be spent elsewhere, and the community model and its flexibility make FOSS able to quickly adapt to different problems and changing environments.

The Grameen Foundation and IBM are working to address poverty through microfinance. Microfinance institutions help poor people pull themselves out of poverty by providing small loans (usually less than $200). IBM is working with Grameen to collaboratively build and maintain a strong open source platform the microfinance institutions can use to “automate
portfolio processing and build next-generation microfinance applications.”

Linux can take a big role in fighting poverty (see here and here). From powering XO laptops in developing nations to replacing expensive proprietary systems in education and government, Linux can free up a lot of resources to aid the poor. In Indiana 22,000 students use Linux workstations, in Germany the number is 560,000, and by 2009 all computers in Russian schools will be running Linux. The City of Munich is migrating all of its 14,000 desktops to Linux, and Venezuela is migrating all of its public agencies to open source. Just migrating 10 computes from Windows/Office to Linux/OpenOffice can free up $11,000 for other uses, not including software maintenance costs.*

In the GIS realm, check out GISCorps. GISCorps is a URISA program that lets GIS professionals volunteer their time and skills to underpriviledged communities and during times of crises. Travel is often not necessary, nor often is costly software. During the recent floods in Myanmar, 31 volunteers from all around the world used Google Earth to pinpoint flooded areas and structures, doing things like finding Buddhist temples where survivors would be likely to gather. All from the comfort of their home computers.

Finally, check out the Povery Mapping site for poverty related maps and data. This site was started by Norway and is now maintained by UNEP/GRID-Arendal. This site has links to lots of maps, reports, and data (shapefile) related to poverty around the world.

The great tragedy of poverty is that it is an entirely human-made phenomenon. Poverty in the animal kingdom tends to be a resource availability problem - if there aren’t enough resouces, the animals starve. Poverty in the human world is a resource distribution problem - there’s enough food for everyone, but a small percentage eats everyone else’s share. If everybody does a little bit, whether donating money or food or time or expertise, maybe we can make a small difference. Even a small difference can mean the world to someone in need.

If you have a blog, please write a post on poverty and help raise awareness. Let’s make Blog Action Day 2008 a success!

*Vista Ultimate ($450) + Office 2007 Ultimate ($679) = $1,129 * 10 = $11,290