Misconceptions about Poverty in Third World Countries


3540449493_1dc656b3d0_bMost parents have resorted to the well worn phrase “there are starving children in Africa” to cajole their children into cleaning their plates at dinner time. I have said this to my own children, with the gentle reminder that I have seen the truth of this statement for myself first hand during my travels to Congo and Burkina Faso. This has been such an oft-quoted phrase in developed countries, that most of us do not give much thought to the fact that starving is still very much a reality in developing countries. According to this United Nations report, some 805 million people in the world do not have enough food to lead a healthy, active life. That’s about one in nine people on earth. The conditions of poverty and great need is one of the first things I hear from adoptive parents interested in adopting from Africa.

Another common description of third world countries is that individuals live “on a few dollars a day.” But what does “living” look like and does that, by extension, mean it doesn’t cost very much to live in or care for a child in that country? The reality is that populations of third world countries living on a few dollars a day are likely living without access to clean running water, proper shelter, electricity, nutritious foods or access to medical care. That few dollars a day is not allowing those individuals to live a life comparable to the life we live in developed countries.

The difference in income between first world nations and underdeveloped ones cannot be explained away by noting that the costs of living in the third world are lower than in the first. As an example, Kinshasa, the capitol city of Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), has been rankedĀ #19Ā as one of the most expensive cities for expatriates to live due to its high cost of living, yet it is considered one of theĀ poorest countriesĀ on the face of the planet. The high cost of living in DRC is the result of a number of factors, such as the fact that DRC importsĀ most of its products, including its food, from Belgium or South Africa and the fact that DRC experiences significant inflation. Providing first world care in a third world country is infinitely more expensive because the supplies and infrastructure are unavailable or nonexistentĀ and the resulting costs associated with purchasing and transporting goods from trusted sources is high. As an example, thisĀ mom photographed strawberries in Kinshasa selling for $25 at a grocery store. Taking into account that 80% of residents in Kinshasa are unemployed and that most live on less than a dollar a day, purchasing fresh nutritious fruits, such as strawberries, is just not a possibility.

Those of us living in developed nations must understand that if we are to elevate the living conditions in third world countries we must come to understand the basics of poverty. While many services, foods, shelter and amenities may be available in these countries, the true reality is that the general population sees these comforts and necessities as unattainable and only available to the rich. Believing that it is acceptable for these populations to exist in their current reality while we exist comfortably and well fed must change. We must make basics such as clean water and nutritious foods available to all and at a cost that is affordable.

Next time you tell your children there are children starving in Africa think about the truth behind this statement. When we can successfully understand poverty, then we can begin to take the steps to ensure all human beings in all countries can be fed, including children in third world, poverty stricken nations. Perhaps one day there will no longer be the need for international adoption of these children in need, but we are a long way off.

Photo Credit: Mulungwishi Mission Station, D.R. Congo

Sonja Brown works as the International Program Director for MLJ Adoptionsā€™ programs in Burkina Faso, Democratic Republic of Congo, Haiti and Samoa. Sonja is also proud to work directly with our Individualized Country Program families who are adopting from countries where no adoption service providers currently operate.