For countless millions in the third world, home is a tent, the washroom is a hole in the ground, a meal is a bowl of stale rice, and a bath is a swim in a river that smells like an unflushed toilet.
Recently, Foreign Policy magazine published its list of “failed states.” No.1 on the list for the fifth straight year is Somalia. Other failed states on this list include Libia, Syria, Egypt, Pakistan.
A failed state is characterized as a country that is unable to provide food, shelter, clothing, healthcare, education for its citizens. It lacks an infrastructure-such as roads, sewage systems, highways. It is also unable to protect its citizens from violence. Often terrorists wreak havoc throughout the country. Or suicide bomber blows themselves up in a public place, killing many innocent. Poverty, homelessness, and hunger afflict the masses. Each day, people die of diseases eradicated in western society. To control the population, prevent revolt or a violent revolution, ruthless, authoritarian governments rule with an iron fist, arbitrarily executing those who oppose. Often a dictatorship is in charge.
I recall the first time I heard about a failed state. It was 1968, when I was 8 years old.—I read and heard about “the Blight of Biafra.” Life magazine screamed “Starving Children of Biafran War” on its July, 1968 cover. The war in Biafra resulted a million or more children dying of starvation. As a boy, I wondered how and why the world could stand and watch from a distance.
During those years, my mother would always say, ” Eat everything on your plate.” There are children starving in other parts of the world.” I’d have visions of the children dying in Biafra from a lack of food. I’d try to imagine what it was like to go without food, to wither away, what it felt like to see yourself rot.
At Halloween, we’d carry UNICEF boxes around our necks to collect donations. You’d trek around the neighborhood, yell “trick or treat”, collecting candy. I’d wait for people to insert a few quarters into the slot. Many ignored my request for a donation. As a boy, I thought collecting money for the less fortunate, like the children of Biafra, was worthy work. Years later, I read that most of the foreign aid donations are used to administer the programs, rather than help the starving, hungry, sick of the third world.
In the 1990s, I read and heard about the starving children of Sudan. Other images of mothers holding children, living in misery, experiencing unimaginable suffering and cruelty. Children crying. The agony of helpless mothers. The ruthless landscape, lack of food and water, basic needs unmet, what so many in the western world take for granted. I’ll never forget the image of a vulture stalking a starving child in a 1993 photo. This photo won a Pulitzer Prize for telling an untold story.
America, the global super power and many others Nation States did little to help. They just stood and watched from a distance, like someone who doesn’t want to get involved when they see a traffic accident on the street. I knew why. When studying Political Science at University, in the early 80s, I learned that countries cannot save the world. This is idealism and altruism. Nation states must conduct foreign policy through the lens of realism. They must focus on “vital interests” and “national security” threats. Sudan was a third-world country on the other side of the world. It had no nuclear weapons or a threatening army. It was a failed state, and twenty years later, it’s still a failed state: third on the list of Foreign Policy’s Failed States Index, which ranks all countries.
Why do countries fail? Foreign Policy magazine identifies some of the reasons in its July/August 2012 issue. According to the magazine, some countries “fail spectacularly.” They collapse; they implode, leaving the population to fend for themselves like “hunter-gather societies,” which existed before development of the nation-state. States fail because of ruthless dictators and elites who are more interested in filling their pockets with wealth than helping the masses. States fail because of an inability of the government to protect its citizens, enforce the law and keep order. States fail because the citizens of the country are unable to own property, allowing them to grow crops and own live stock, enabling them to be self-sufficient. States fail because of forced labour, corruption, lack of education and healthcare services, lack of infrastructure such as roads and bridges, and an unwillingness to embrace new technologies that could help a country. States fail because of geography.
Despite the shortcomings of healthcare and politics, despite the high unemployment and constant social problem of crime and poverty, despite the economic disparity between the rich and ordinary, middle-class Canadians, our country is still one of the best places to live in the world.
Positive psychology and many other religious and philosophical perspectives teach us to “Count your Blessings.” At the end of each day, take stock of what you should be grateful for. Too often, we forget to be thankful of the benefits of living in a technologically advanced, liberal democracy with a free-market economy.
Everyone living in western society, such as Canada, the Unites States, Western Europe, should count their blessings for not having to live in a tent on the soil of some third-world country, one that is a “failed state.” It is only by “chance” or “luck” that you’re not. If you were born into a family living in one of the “failed states,” you’d probably be suffering from abject poverty, living in human misery, perhaps facing the prospect of dying of starvation.