The world is at a tipping point.
According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), we are experiencing the greatest displacement of people in history, with about 25.4 million seeking refuge internationally. (For reference, that’s more than the total population of Australia.) Recently, the migrant caravans stationed in Tijuana have made headlines for their attempts to seek asylum in the United States, while reports from Italy and Turkey of drowned ships of refugees from Syria ripple through global news coverage. Meanwhile, South America is having its own crisis: approximately 2.1 million Venezuelans are fleeing their homes to neighbouring countries to escape poverty and government corruption. In Asia, Rohingya Muslims facing persecution in Myanmar are seeking refuge by the millions in Bangladesh, a country that already faces more than its fair share of economic instability. However, Africa is seeing the largest amount of displacement: the continent has about 80% of world’s refugees coming from war-torn countries in the Middle East, but also a substantial influx in people fleeing from the Democratic Republic of Congo and South Sudan in the wake of fresh violence, or those escaping wide-scale terrorism in Nigeria, or others desperately seeking salvation from the poverty-stricken Central African Republic. Various countries have “open-door” policies, like Ethiopia, who has accepted 740 000 refugees, and Uganda, which offers employment and housing opportunities for their 500 000 displaced persons.
However, Africa cannot bear the brunt alone: The Gates Foundation estimates that, by 2050, the continent will have 65% of the population of people living in extreme poverty. The United Nations has formulated action plans to tackle the various global refugee emergencies, and estimates they need about $25 billion to deliver adequate help to those in need, target humanitarian crises at the source, and prevent further disaster. The UNHCR recently reported that they only have $14 billion to work with. This is a lot of money, and $25 billion seems like an even more extravagant amount. Where is this extra $11 billion supposed to come from? Countries and people don’t just have that kind of cash lying around.
According to Forbes, there are about 124 people who could give up $11 billion and still be some of the richest people in the world. There are 32 who could fund the entire UN humanitarian effort. In fact, Jeff Bezos could do it five times over and still be ridiculously wealthy. Why anybody needs $134 billion is beyond me, but what do I know? I’m not a billionaire. Or a millionaire. I’m just somebody who can sleep at night.
The sheer amount of money that few people in this world have is astonishing. 0.000027% of the population have 50% of the wealth (this amounts to about $9.1 trillion – to put that in perspective, the 2018 United States Budget is $4.4 trillion) and while this money lies in assets and stock instead of cold, hard cash, it is tempting to question what one person could do with billions of dollars. Perhaps buy a dozen luxury cars, real estate in Vancouver, and gold-encrusted toilets, but when one is constantly accumulating more wealth every day, one cannot just spend it on one-time purchases because the money replaces itself quicker than one can spend it. Rather, investment is essential to getting rid of one’s money, a lesson Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates knows all too well.
Gates, who is currently worth about $90 billion, is one of the few benefactors of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and Trust, along with his wife, Melinda, and fellow billionaire, Warren Buffet. Gates has personally donated $35 billion to the Foundation, as well as pledged to spend at least 95% of his total wealth on philanthropy by the time of his death. The Gates’ have continuously expressed frustration at global financial inequality and have recognized the privilege they have by being worth billions and have, therefore, dedicated the rest of their lives to charitable causes. The Gates’ have taken measures to ensure that their money can be used long-term: oftentimes, they donate assets that will continue to accumulate wealth, and emphasize the importance of long-term investment in influencing social change. The Gates Foundation Annual Goalkeeper’s Report even states that their main goal is to foster continuous growth by investing in young people and their initiatives. In reference to the refugee and economic crises in Africa, the report says, “Recently, there’s been a lot of discussion about what happens if large numbers of young people in the poorest countries are denied opportunities to build better lives. People worry about insecurity, instability, and mass migration. We wish they would also recognize young people’s enormous potential to drive growth. They are the activists, innovators, leaders, and workers of the future. Investing in young people’s health and education is the best way for a country to unlock productivity and innovation, cut poverty, create opportunities, and generate prosperity.” I could not agree more.
We are witnessing the beginning of a global revolution. The world has never been richer; the world has never been poorer. There is a minority who could singlehandedly financially solve the crises that are forcing an unprecedented number of people out of their homes, and the only way to avoid a total cataclysm is to prepare for the future. There needs to be accountability for the people who have the power to change it all, and their donations should be used to foster sustainable initiatives that will continue to help those in need for many years to come. The time of people giving money and walking away must end, as we are facing too many international issues to justify cash handouts. Planning for future success is essential: approximately 30% of the world’s population is below the age of 18, and many young people are on the forefront of humanitarian crises. Furthermore, it is primarily youth who are calling for an international shift in mentality, pleading that we empathize with people we will never meet in situations we cannot fathom, that we learn to care about our fellow world citizens and not sit on our mountains of privilege and simply watch disaster unfold. To properly support the young people who will inherit this brand-new world of blurred nationality and economic inequality, a precedent must be set: one where the richest step up and use their money for the good of humanity, where world leaders are willing to support people who are not their own, where we have a shred of compassion for those who flee their homes out of fear for their lives. Financial gaps are no longer a valid excuse to not save lives, and disconnection is not a reason for not caring about others. We have billionaires and free press – we should use them.
Photo credit to UNHCR TRACKS.