This International Women's Day, I would like to reflect on the international standards by which we judge whether humans have what they need.
Absolute poverty refers to a condition where a person does not have the minimum amount of income needed to meet the minimum requirements for one or more basic living needs over an extended period of time.
This includes things like:
Food: Adults who have a body mass index that is below 17, or children who are over three standard deviations below a certain age/weight/height criteria. About half of SBV's clients would meet this criterion.
Safe drinking water: Having to use surface water (i.e. rivers or streams), or having to spend at least 30 minutes to collect water from some source. The majority of SBV clients do not have piped water but carry it from a communal tap some distance away. Especially those on the volcano have a difficult walk over rocky terrain with the heavy load.
Sanitation facilities: Lack of access to any type of toilet facility. Almost all SBV members and clients have deep drop or bucket toilets. These are problematic in conjunction with high rainfall and dependence on ground-water for drinking. Cholera and other diarrhoeal diseases are common, incapacitating and sometimes dangerous.
Health: Lack of access to any type of health care, including immunizations, prenatal care, or treatment for serious illnesses. In theory there are some free immunisations. Whether they are actually available, or free, at any given time is doubtful. All other medical care needs payment and with no social security and 95% unemployment, that means it depends on begging success. Hospitals routinely detain patients until the bill is paid (family must provide food). Some people have been incarcerated in hospital for years because the bill is unaffordable. To avoid this, many people say away from help that they need. One of our mothers died for lack of antibiotics which would have cured intestinal tuberculosis.
Shelter: Kids who live in places where there are more than four people to a room, adults who live in places with more than three people to a room, or adults and children who live in places with no floors. More than half of our clients meet this criterion of absolute poverty.
Education: School-age children who have not in the past or are not currently in school, or adults who have not attended school and cannot read or write. We are working hard to ensure that our clients are not in this position. We need to help to fully succeed.
Information: Lack of access to any type of media, including radio, television, or computer.
Most of our clients have none of these. There are also no newspapers. Some families have a radio. The programming is not particularly helpful or informative.
Access to services: Lack of access to schools, health services, etc. All access depends on funds derived from begging. If that does not provide more than is needed for food, then all services are unavailable.
Living in absolute poverty is harmful and can endanger your life. The standards set for absolute poverty are the same across countries. When it was established in 1990, the World Bank set the global absolute poverty line as living on less than $1 a day.
We hope to expand the Mama Wimbi program to provide disposable income for the workers, as well as school fees for the children. In time we hope to provide an escape from absolute poverty for at least these brave women and their families.