Text and Photos by Henrylito D. Tacio
It may be unthinkable, but inequality kills one person every four seconds. This “highly conservative measure” comes from a confederation of 21 member organizations and affiliates, representing a global movement of people who are fighting inequality to end poverty and injustice.
“Inequality is deadly. It contributes to the deaths of at least 21,300 people each day,” says Oxfam International, which works across regions in about 70 countries, with thousands of partners, allies, and supporting communities.
The International Encyclopedia of Human Geography refers to inequality as “the phenomenon of unequal and/or unjust distribution of resources and opportunities among members of a given society.”
Baher Kamal, who wrote a report for Inter Press Service based on the Oxfam International report, said that those deaths are caused by hunger, lack of access to healthcare, climate crisis, and gender-based violence.
“Climate change is happening now,” Oxfam International said, citing destructive weather, rising seas, unprecedented fires, and historic famines as proof. “It is one of the most harmful drivers of worsening hunger, migration, poverty, and inequality all over the world.”
Last year, “the world saw a record $50 billion worth of damages from extreme weather disasters exacerbated by climate change, pushing nearly 16 million people in 15 countries to crisis levels of hunger.”
Oxfam International said the number of climate-related disasters has tripled in 30 years, with currently one extreme weather event recorded per week. In the Philippines, for instance, super typhoon Odette ravaged islands and coastal communities in the east and flooded towns and cities across the country a week before Christmas.
Since 2000, the United Nations estimates that 1.23 million people have died, and 4.2 billion have been affected by droughts, floods, and wildfires.
“The climate crisis affects us all, but it doesn’t affect us equally,” Oxfam International pointed out. “The richest 1% of people in the world, about 63 million people, are responsible for more than twice as much carbon pollution as the 3.1 billion people who make up the poorest half of humanity.”
Yet, it’s the poor and marginalized communities who are affected by the impacts of droughts, floods, wildfires, and storms. All those cause “unpredictable growing seasons, crop failures, and sharp increases in food prices.”
Oxfam International said that people in low- and lower-middle-income countries are around five times more likely than people in high-income countries to be displaced by sudden extreme weather disasters.
Inequality is not an abstract issue, Oxfam International stressed. “It has devastating, real-world consequences,” it said, citing the case of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) as an example.
“(Inequality) has made COVID-19 pandemic deadlier, more prolonged and more damaging,” Oxfam International said. “It is rigged into our economic systems and is tearing our societies apart.”
COVID-19 was first reported in 2019, and it has persisted until now. “Over the past two years, people had died when they contracted an infectious disease because they did not get vaccines in time,” the report stated. “They have died of other illnesses because they could not afford private care. They have died of hunger because they could not afford to buy food.”
While these people died, “the richest people in the world got richer than ever and some of the largest companies made unprecedented profits.” Oxfam International said that a new billionaire has been created every 26 hours since the pandemic started.
“Inequality disproportionately affects the vast majority of people living in poverty, women, and girls, and racialized and marginalized groups,” Oxfam International said. “It is now prolonging the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has led to a sharp increase in poverty around the world.”
The United Nations defines inequality as “the state of not being equal, especially in status, rights, and opportunities.” As such, it is “a concept very much at the heart of social justice theories.”
More often than not, inequality is prone to confusion in public debate as it tends to mean different things to different people.
“Many authors distinguish ‘economic inequality,’ mostly meaning ‘income inequality,’ ‘monetary inequality,’ or more broadly, inequality in ‘living conditions,’” UN explains. “Others further distinguish a rights-based, legalistic approach to inequality – inequality of rights and associated obligations (that is, when people are not equal before the law, or when people have unequal political power).”
Indeed, inequality comes in different forms, and one of these is social inequality, which has five systems: wealth inequality, treatment and responsibility inequality, political inequality, life inequality, and membership inequality.
“Political inequality is the difference brought about by the ability to access governmental resources which therefore have no civic equality,” Wikipedia explains. “In treatment and responsibility differences, some people benefit more and can quickly receive more privileges than others. In working stations, some are given more responsibilities and hence better compensation and more benefits than the rest even when equally qualified.
“Membership inequality is the number of members in a family, nation or faith. Life inequality is brought about by the disparity of opportunities which, if present, improve a person’s life quality. Finally, income and wealth inequality is the disparity due to what an individual can earn on a daily basis contributing to their total revenue either monthly or yearly.”
The Oxfam International report said that the climate crisis – from extreme weather to terrible hunger – worsens the inequalities that keep people in poverty. “It hits hardest the people who are least responsible for the problem, and least resourced to protect themselves from the impacts,” it deplored.
Oxfam International considered inequality as “deadly for the future of our world.” It said: “The extreme concentration of money, power, and influence of a few at the very top has pernicious effects on the rest of us. We all suffer from a heating planet when rich countries fail to address the effects of their responsibility for an estimated 92% of all excess historic emissions.”
“We are at a tipping point to prevent an irreversible climate catastrophe and the failure to act now will lead to even greater costs later,” Oxfam International surmised. “It will cost the lives and livelihoods of millions of people if we sit by to watch the inaction of those who pollute most.”
Meanwhile, “poverty has become an accepted way of life, even in such a temporary state of affluence and this attitude can even be transmitted generation after generation” in the Philippines, Manuel B. Garcia and Leovigildo O. Militante wrote in Social Problems.
A report from the Asian Development Bank entitled Poverty in the Philippines: Causes, Constraints, and Opportunities, gave a clearer view on what causes poverty in the country.
These are: low to moderate economic growth for the past 40 years; low growth elasticity of poverty reduction; weakness in employment generation and the quality of job generated; failure to fully develop the agriculture sector; high inflation during crisis periods; and high levels of population growth.
There are more: high and persistent levels of inequality (income and assets), which dampen the positive impacts of economic expansion, and recurrent shocks and exposure to risks such as economic crisis, conflicts, natural disasters, and “environmental poverty.”