SEATTLE, Washington — Rick Steves is known for his television series and radio show on traveling Europe. On February 2, 2020, he released an hour-long special on extreme poverty and hunger in Ethiopia and Guatemala. Rick Steves’ Hunger and Hope: Lessons from Ethiopia and Guatemala uses specific examples from Ethiopia and Guatemala to discuss the challenges and solutions to fighting global poverty.
Rick Steves Fighting Global Poverty
Steves has long been interested in understanding the structural roots of poverty. He actively supports several humanitarian organizations that fight global poverty. These include Agros International, which helps break the cycle of rural poverty for farmers in Central America; ELCA World Hunger, which offers microloans, health clinics and community meals in impoverished communities; and Water 1st International, which supports water and sanitation projects to improve health.
Steves begins his special by discussing the extent of global poverty. He notes that approximately 700 million people are suffering from extreme poverty globally, living on less than $2 per day. His message is ultimately one of hope. He discusses the significant progress that has been made, such as the fact that the number of people living in extreme poverty has dropped from 2 billion in 1990 to less than 1 billion today. He also emphasizes that, if this progress continues, extreme poverty could end in our lifetime.
Rising Out of Poverty
To solve global poverty and hunger, Steves highlights the importance of “a combined and coordinated effort.” NGOs, local governments, development aid organizations and local people must get involved. In the special, he identifies six basics needed to rise out of poverty: water, farming, health and nutrition, education, technology and banking.
- Water: In many poor communities, women and children have to travel long distances each day to acquire clean water for their families. Building water infrastructure, such wells, is necessary for improving livelihoods. After one village in Ethiopia installed a well, the women there no longer had to walk hours every day to obtain water. Access to clean water leads to better hygiene, less sickness and gives children more time for education.
- Farming: Sustainable and improved farming practices are essential to increasing food availability and decreasing hunger. Training local farmers on smart farming techniques empowers them to become more successful and feed their communities. In Guatemala, an NGO worked to coach farmers on how to increase crop yields by making small changes in their farming practices. This has made a huge difference in food availability.
- Health and Nutrition: Malnutrition stunts growth and development, keeping many in poverty. Ensuring children are properly nourished during the first 1,000 days of life is critical to brain development and, therefore, educational success. Vaccinations are also crucial to reducing child mortality.
- Education: The availability of high-quality education is another way to fight poverty around the world. Improved education helps prepare children to be successful in the workforce as adults. It also increases the opportunities for income. In fact, simply ensuring that all children complete secondary education would cut the global poverty rate by more than 50 percent.
- Technology: Technical upgrades can make great strides in fighting poverty. Installing solar panels in villages in Ethiopia has provided electricity to communities that previously had none. Furthermore, elevated stoves with chimneys in households are more fuel-efficient and make living quarters less smoky, decreasing the risk of health issues.
- Banking: The impoverished are excluded from the formal economy if they do not have access to banking. In Guatemala, an NGO practiced microlending by granting small loans and then recycling the capital. This helps locals sustain their small businesses and become more financially successful.
Rick Steves’ Hunger and Hope identifies three factors that contribute directly to continuing global poverty. Conflict, corruption and climate change have all caused an increase in hunger in recent years. Conflict and corruption worsen the lives of the poor, causing widespread suffering. While wars, drug trade, gangs and violence push people deeper into poverty, systems of extreme wealth inequality give power to local elites at the expense of the poor.
Climate change has also created new hardships for the impoverished. In Guatemala, the hunger season is longer than it used to be because of climate change. The severity and unpredictability of weather make farming more difficult and increase hunger. This drives conflict and migration. Addressing the causes of conflict and corruption in developing countries and working to combat climate change on a global scale is essential to fighting global poverty.
Importance of U.S. Development Aid
At the end of the special, Steves discusses the importance of development aid from the United States. The U.S. military (“hard power”) is an important part of national security. However, investing in development and stability (“soft power”) is equally as important to reducing poverty and hunger in countries like Guatemala and Ethiopia.
In the closing statement of Rick Steves’ Hunger and Hope, he explains, “Smart government aid programs and fair trade programs have a far greater impact than all philanthropic efforts combined. How our government responds to these challenges does make a difference. And when we act together as a nation, there’s certainly reason to hope.”
– Sara Olk