Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
May 24, 1999
Refugees and victims we don't hear about
This year, some two and a half million children will be born in Mexico. More than 100,000 will die in infancy and a million will grow up malnourished and never fully develop, physically or mentally.
Similar figures apply to most of Latin America, much of Asia and large parts of Africa. Between 13 and 15 million children die annually, and often needlessly, because they don't have enough to eat or cannot access adequate health care.
It is a difficult concept to come to grips with.
We live in the information age, so we're told. The numbers of killings (fake or real) a young person has been exposed to on the flickering screen by the time he or she graduates from high school is astronomical.
One may wonder whether the cry in art and entertainment prevents us from hearing the cry in the street. Death becomes commonplace when contained in a box you can switch off. The last month or so we've been witness to life imitating art as news reports were filled with testimonies of atrocities committed on either side of an armed conflict which has not yet been officially declared a "war."
In the midst of all this we had a flurry of attention to sudden death in our own midst - the tragic incidents at Taber and Colorado. President Bill Clinton took time off his busy schedule as commander in chief of the free world to say children should be taught to settle differences with words and not weapons.
This makes one wonder whether we live in a world of make-believe. Are we being governed by leaders who suffer from chronic bipolarity?
I no longer watch TV, we haven't subscribed to a daily paper for over two decades and I haven't seen a movie for several years. But I understand Star Wars is a big hit and action figures sell like hotcakes. I can only wonder whether people prefer fantasy to reality.
It seems there is an insatiable desire to be entertained. Even newscasts have to compete with sit-coms and game shows.
That brings me back to the question of neglected children. In an event-driven and action-oriented world, the plight of millions of children with a life expectancy of less than five years is unexciting. It won't make the news unless they are all gathered in one place like a scene out of the Apocalypse.
Still, the violence of hunger is real. For people in the Third World, death, in the guise of infant mortality, is a familiar companion.
For half the population of the world, hunger is a daily grind. So is poverty, homelessness and unemployment.
But death by starvation is silent; it leaves no fingerprints or gaping wounds and the process is too slow to film. And yet, this silent but certain death claims more victims in a year than all the armed violence in all the regions of the world combined.
Switching on your TV you might get a sense of the magnitude of suffering as war refugees pour across the border. We are deeply moved, as we should be, by the images of houses razed, lives destroyed, families split up.
But there are other refugees we don't hear about. Dr. Cernea, chief advisor to the World Bank, candidly remarked in 1995 at Oxford University, that "worldwide about 10 million people annually are forcefully displaced and relocated as a result of only two sectors of economic development: dam construction and transportation."
That's a hundred million refugees in the last decade forced from their homes to make room for a money-making scheme.
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