Across the globe in impoverished third world countries an estimated 50,000 children die of starvation every day (Quine 36). We have all seen the images of these children--bloated bellies, fly covered, bulging eyes--in television pleas by various charitable organizations. While these images sicken us, we idly sit by (often flipping the channel to avoid them), refusing to help these less fortunate kids. The problem is made worse by the ever-increasing population. Even the wealthy countries like our own now have a starvation problem (Quine 29). Admittedly, the problem here is less severe, but it still exists. With our current level of technology, the resources at our disposal, and a commitment to help those less fortunate, we can and must end starvation around the world before it gets worse.
The main problem facing efforts to wipe-out starvation in third world countries is that people feel no connection to those children. The commercials appealing to our conscience and sympathies are ineffective because, even though the images are awful, the viewer feels removed from the people in the commercials. There is no connection because the commercial could be nothing more than a fictional image in a movie. We have all heard someone say, or possibly have said ourselves, "We should help our own people first." Intuitively, there is something to this thought. It doesn't make sense to us to pass over the starving in our own country to help children thousands of miles away. This, however, does not free us from our moral obligation to help those who are far away. What proponents of this view are pointing out is that we do have a problem in this country. That simply means we are morally obligated to do something about the starving people here also, not that we are not equally obligated to help people in other countries as well. As philosopher Bertrand Russell points out, "Physical proximity is not relevant to moral obligation" (Russell 153). Distance and inconvenience do not relieve us of our moral duty.
On the contrary, we may be--at least in the case of starvation of distant children--more obligated to help them. In the United States there are many programs, shelters, charities, and individuals to help our less fortunate. A recent government study has shown that only 60% of the charitable donations of food, clothing, and money are used; the rest is lost, squandered, or in limbo. This same study estimates that the remaining 40% would provide enough resources to feed, clothe, and house every underprivileged and starving child in the country (U.S. Dept. of Welfare 44). With this being the case and with only an estimated 14% of the population making regular donations (Quine 10), the rest of us could easily help those people, especially children, starving in underdeveloped countries. The people at home are (or at least can be) taken care of, contrary to popular opinion, so if we ignore the distance between us and those poor kids in, for example, Saint Thomas, then we are obligated to help them. Distance is not morally relevant, and we have the resources to help. Therefore, we can and must help.
Another objection raised against helping the poor, starving kids in other countries is the financial stability of the American family. Many families live from paycheck to paycheck, barely paying their bills and putting food on the table. Yes, this is a problem; however, it is not an insurmountable one. The Census Bureau reports that the majority of families do struggle with their finances (U.S. Census Bureau 69) and attempting to feed children in far away lands would provide these families with an undue hardship. However, there is an easy solution which can be found in other Census Bureau data.
Two specific statistics are relevant to this issue. First, the U.S. population is increasing by an estimated 2,135,247 people each year (U.S. Census Bureau 32). Second, approximately 54,000 people die in the U.S. each day, with that...
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Russell, Bertrand. Proximity and the Poor. (New York: Blackwell; 1987).
U.S. Census Bureau. Concise Guide to Facts & Numbers from the 2000 Census. (Washington,
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