A 'Silent Genocide.' (Rich vs. Poor Nations) (from an Address to "Facing the 21st Century: Threats and Promises" Conference)

By Salam, Abdus | UNESCO Courier, May 1988 | Go to article overview

A 'Silent Genocide.' (Rich vs. Poor Nations) (from an Address to "Facing the 21st Century: Threats and Promises" Conference)


Salam, Abdus, UNESCO Courier


A 'silent genocide'

Our planet is inhabited by two distinct types of human beings. According to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) count of 1983, one quarter of mankind, some 1,100 million people, are "developed". They inhabit two-fifths of the land area of the Earth, while 3,600 million "developing" humans--Les Miserables--live in the remaining three-fifths. I shall call them the rich and the poor respectively, although some of those in the developing world are not exactly poor in pure economic terms. It is not just the level of poverty which distinguishes one type from the other, it is also a question of ambition and dynamism, and the differing contribution made by each type to "present day culture" and to science and technology.

During 1983, the rich countries enjoyed a total Gross National Product (GNP) of $10.5 trillion, $9,500 per year and per capita, or around $800 per month. For the same year, the poor countries has a total GNP of $2.6 trillion, an average of $60 per capita per month. The part of the world I come from--South Asia--which consists of Afghanistan, Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka and has a population of 1,000 million, had a GNP of $250 per capita. This means on an average $20 a month or 70 cents a day. These 70 cents are supposed to provide us with two daily meals, clothing, shelter, health care and education, if any.

The rich quarter of humanity "lead" the "North-Centric" world of today through their economic superiority and their military prowess. They include the two superpowers, the USA and the USSR, with populations of 235 and 272 million (and GNPs of $3.3 trillion and $1.85 trillion, respectively). The "leaders" as a whole suffer from two problems: a nuclear psychosis and unemployment. They seem to have consciously chosen to keep 10 per cent of their active population unemployed--Feeding and clothing them at subsistence level.

The remaining three-quarters of humanity includes some of the peoples who built up the oldest civilization of the planet -- the Chinese, the Hindu, the Buddhist and the Islamic. Their basic problem are lack of food (some countries are wracked by recurring famines); of shelter; of clothing; of health care; of education. Their situation is aggravated by the problems of unemployment; adverse terms of trade; chronic indebtedness (to the tune of $1 trillion); overcrowding; and lack of security.

I am not referring to the obviously shelterless, the obviously needy. I have in mind, rather, the uncomplaining hungry millions, who--and I speak from experience--seldom get two regular meals a day; the millions who must often choose between buying badly needed food or a schoolbook for their child. They live in a crushing poverty of the kind that has not been known in Europe and the United States since the time of Dickens. I never cease to be amazed that, despite this "silent genocide", the human spirit does not break and that most of the needy are still able to keep up a dignified appearance. …

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