My freshman year, in my College Composition class, we read the popular essay by Peter Singer, "The Singer Solution to World Poverty." Published in the New York Times on Sept. 5, 1999, Singer argues that Americans ought to give any income not necessary to sustain their own comfortable living to organizations such as UNICEF, which provides third-world communities with fresh drinking water, vaccinations, food and medical care.
He suggested that $30,000 a year should be more than enough to sustain the average American.
My classmates and I were all too eager to debunk Singer's argument, which we did somewhat successfully. How would our nation's economy survive if no one purchased frivolously? Soon anyone working at department stores or on cruise lines would be in unemployment lines!
And if all those hungry kids in third-world countries survived, how would the world sustain such a jump in the population? It is survival of the fittest. If the kids die, that's just a fact of life.
We were so cruel.
As the richest country in the world and the self-titled "leader" of the free world, one would expect the United States to be the No. 1 donor to ending hunger and promoting the necessities of life overseas.
We are not, however. While the United States often contributes the most in raw-dollar amount, per capita we are most often at the end of the list, similarly when our donations are considered a percentage of our gross national product.
A case in point: The latest UNICEF Annual Report shows the United States leading with donations totaling just more than a third of a million dollars. Our per capita contribution was $1.17. In 2001, we were at the bottom of the list.
Norway's per capita contribution was $25.43. And think how much Norwegians have to spend on parkas! Maybe Norway should be the new leader of the world. Instead of invading Middle East nations with oil interests, everyone would get a free parka, embroidered with his or her first name and lined with Gortex.
Oh, and there would be no more hunger because the leading power would be sharing its unprecedented wealth.
Individual donations, while certainly helpful, are not what can help the most. College students are limited by the amount of money they can give away while paying tuition bills.
At www.unicefusa.org one can write letters to elected officials encouraging them to increase government funding for UNICEF and other causes such as AIDS relief.
The need is great and time is not a luxury that can be afforded.
More than 5 million children under the age of 5 die each year, partially because of malnutrition. Rehabilitating three malnourished children for one month costs $10.
More than 120 million children are not in school, over half of them girls. An entire set of school supplies for one child can be provided through UNICEF for $2.50.
Only $17 can immunize a child for life against polio, measles, tuberculosis, whooping cough, diphtheria and tetanus. Still, 900,000 children under the age of 5 die from measles each year.
Perhaps Singer is right. If we have the money to save lives, why would we use it to go out to dinner or buy a leather coat? We have the ability to save children living in conditions that we are unable to fathom. Their eyes are looking toward us.
Ben Bleckley is a senior English major. His column runs every Monday in the Collegian.