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Peter Singer argues that it is the duty of individuals living comfortably to help the poor. Additionally, Singer articulates that helping the poor and those dying of preventable diseases is not charity, but a moral obligation. It is thus the responsibility of individuals in rich countries to make considerable sacrifices to help those suffering from poverty related causes. Failure to do this would result in such people being ethically indefensible. As an example, Singer offers a significant sum of his pay as donations and reiterates he needs to give more. Singer argues that it is the duty of the well off to prevent something awful from taking place. Suffering and death can be prevented through contributing to famine relief. Singer considers the cost of giving to the poor morally insignificant as a reduction in the standard of living of the rich. Peter Singer is considered one of the most controversial ethicist with a significant percentage criticizing his stand. The essay expounds on Peter Singer’s argument on the obligations of helping the poor.
Peter Singer’s argument convincingly shows that we have strong duties to aid the poor. Singer articulates that people could reduce unnecessary suffering and death by donating to the poor and disadvantaged (BBC, 2014, para. 1). The obligation of giving applies during emergency famine relief and aid in long-term development. For decades upper-income individuals have failed to give away much of their income as they can. The poor are also reported to be more generous making the rich undistinguished as givers. Singer demonstrates a world where millions of individuals live in abject poverty. Such people live on less than one dollar a day, lack safe drinking water, are undernourished, and cannot send their children to school. The life expectancy of the poor and disadvantaged is low considering that healthcare is beyond their means. Contrastingly, Singer articulates that the average person in developed countries enjoys lavishness formerly unknown to royalty.
Singer draws his argument from two hypothetical situations based on a Brazilian film Central Station and Peter Unger’s book, Living High and Letting Die. Dora, a schoolteacher in the Central Station makes some quick money after persuading a homeless child to agree to adoption by foreigners (Schaefer, 2011, para. 3). However, she discovers the boy is too old for adoption and will therefore be killed. Dora decides to take back the homeless child. The second hypothetical example is about Bob, who refuses to save a child’s life to spare his uninsured Bugatti. In these examples, Singer concludes that Dora’s conduct is morally right, whereas that of Bob is gravely wrong. According to Singer, children die daily in poor nations as individuals in rich nations fail to take action to prevent such occurrences. Suffering because of acute poverty is wrong and if people can prevent such suffering, then they morally ought to do so. Singer also expresses that failing to help the poorest individuals in the world is a letdown to meeting the minimum standards of moral decency.
Technological advancement and abundance of resources in wealthy countries should be used to reduce or eliminate acute poverty in poor nations. Lower income Americans have been reported to give more to charity compared to high-income citizens. Singer presents examples of how children in poor countries die of preventable diseases like malaria (UNICEF, 2014, para.1). Infectious diseases also claim a significant number of individuals in poor nations. Healthcare is a major problem in poor nations with most individuals being unable to afford even the basics. As such, Singer is convincing in articulating that the rich have strong duties to help the poor. In recent decades, the number of continually hungry people has increased by considerable percentages. A significant percentage of the world population cannot afford the most fundamental food needs. Millions die annually because of hunger and malnutrition. Economic and social development is also considerably obstructed because of hunger and poor health. Individuals affected by food emergencies globally only represent a minute fraction of those who cannot access enough food. Armed conflict and climate change have worsened the food adequacy problem with organizations providing emergency relief to millions of people in poor countries. Food aid extended to poor countries as either cash to purchase food or as food items, can play a major role in reducing hunger. As Singer affirms, such problems can be reduced or prevented if the rich could donate to the poor. Providing emergency food aid can help save the lives of millions who cannot afford a decent living.
Non-emergency food aid is critical so that people do not have to wait for the poor to die to intervene. Consistent food aid can play a significant role in improving well-being and encouraging children to go to school. Education and good health have proven necessary to the development of a country in the long term (Balogun, 2013, p. 34). Peter Singer’s challenge to the rich to give the poor can be backed with numerous examples. The worldwide food aid system is crippled with lots of problems. For example, the rich countries often fail to pledge sufficient food aid or deliver help when it is already too late.
Food aid programs have also been accused of undermining agricultural production in poor countries, hence, threatening food security in the end (Wahlberg, 2008, para 24). Some donor countries have also designed programs that promote their on domestic interest instead of helping the hungry. Most rich countries would help eliminate the problem of food insecurity if they prioritized the needs of the hungry and poor. This would be much more important than letting commercial interests and national strategic dictate where and how to provide food aid. Singer has used several examples to make his argument asserting that whatever money is spent on luxuries should be given away to the poor. Additionally, Singer expresses that it is morally wrong to live comfortably while others are dying of hunger. As such, it is the duty of the rich to reduce preventable death and poverty because they can (Huseby, 2008, p. 2). Lack of enough food for aid is a manifest that the rich are not donating to the poor. Most emergencies are forgotten, whereas others experience acute shortfalls. This force food aid programs to cut food rations or give to a minute population leaving others to suffer. Donors are also accused of short term funding, which result in diminishing funds for hunger problems.
Long-term crises are neglected by both media and donors. Food aid shipments take an average of five months to get to their destination. Late donation of aid is attributed to slow pledge and delivery. Consequently, a significant number of hunger crises could be avoided with fast response from donor countries. Hunger crises caused by drought and other climate changes are preventable. Peter Singer offers various examples of individuals living lavish lives instead of donating to the poor. Preventable diseases, infant mortality, and maternal deaths continue t plague poor countries. Much of this is preventable through use of existing treatments and appropriate research. The World Health Organization articulates that the death toll of malaria in Africa is still outrageously high with thousands of children dying daily (WHO, 2014, para. 3). Novel anti-malarial drugs are hardly available to a significant number of individuals in need. Only a minute percentage of children at risk of malaria receive preventive care. A huge percentage of malaria deaths occur in Africa and the south of the Sahara to children below the age of five (Gething, et al., 2014, p. 39). Malaria is also a threat to pregnant women and infants. Much support and donation is required to achieve the set objectives of reducing preventable deaths in poor nations.
Peter Singer analyses several instances given by various philosophers. Imaginary examples are presented by the philosophers to probe intuition on various moral issues. Some of the examples test whether it is unethical to live comfortably without donating significant amounts to help the poor. Singer reiterates that people have opportunities to save the lives of the poor, but they instead choose to live luxurious lives. Only a small amount of donation is required to save a child’s life in poor nations. If the rich can embrace the duty of giving to the poor as Singer asserts, millions of lives would be saved in poor countries (Posner & Weisbach, 2010, p. 174).
In the recent past, Ebola, a deadly virus spread fiercely in West Africa claiming a significant number of lives. Ebola is highly contagious and spreads through contact with bodily fluids. Containment of Ebola is easy through standard infection control methods, which are effortless to execute in developed countries. Such measures are almost impossible in the West African countries plagued by Ebola. Modern public health systems and sufficient state institutions help developed countries handle such incidents effectively and with minimum fatalities. Giving to the poor nations can play a significant role in reducing the deaths caused by such diseases.
Research and public awareness campaigns can prevent such diseases like Ebola from spreading (Campbell & Steketee, 2011, p. 584). However, such programs can only be funded by the rich as Singer articulates in his quest. For example in such areas affected by Ebola in West Africa, there lacks running water and electricity is supplied occasionally by a generator. Hospitals lack medicine and the beds are extremely few resulting in more than two patients sharing one bed. Lack of rubber gloves was highlighted as one of the major contributors to the spread of the disease. Several doctors contracted the disease and spread it to other patients. Hospitals lack medicines and the doctors are often unpaid. Such health problems are worsened by poverty. As Singer reiterates, living comfortably when the poor are dying from preventable causes is morally wrong (Anonymous, 2009, p. 218). Poverty, underdevelopment, and absence of government institutions have contributed considerably to the spread of Ebola.
Even after years of development aid, little has changed in poor countries (Department for International Development, 2014, para. 2). The spread of Ebola in West Africa has been recorded as the deadliest and the longest lasting outbreak in history. Before the Ebola outbreak, such individuals were still vulnerable to other conditions like malaria, sleeping sickness, Lassa fever and many others. The poor medical facilities in Africa are too weak to handle diseases and outbreaks. Donating to the poor can strengthen healthcare infrastructure in poor countries, hence, creating a long-term solution to health care. Developed countries have demonstrated that improving health care in the 21st Century is achievable and affordable. As such, just as the rich can access health care, it would be morally upright to help the poor access the most basic care.
In his expedition to campaign for the poor, Singer has encountered significant criticism. Singer articulates that only a minute amount is required to save a person’s life in poor nations. However, he contradicts himself by claiming that it is a moral duty to donate everything that is not used on necessities. Singer also fails to explain why individuals should donate all their surplus money, but simply states that they should. People find it difficult and unconvincing to send anything extra of their hard-earned money to poor nations (Ranganathan, 2012, p. 653). Singer as well fails to address a situation where nobody has extra wealth to give away. Critics articulate that giving off anything not used for necessities would result to massive financial instability. Singer has also been criticized for including his demands in his argument for helping the poor. After offering a strong argument and presenting two decent hypothetical examples, Singer demands and condemns individuals who lead luxurious lives instead of giving to the poor. The mention of the insignificant amount required to save an individual’s life in poor nation has also been overturned to any extra wealth. Singer has made extraordinary requests to rich people without offering any explanation.
Critics agree that donation can go a long way in saving poor lives. Preventable diseases and hunger related deaths can be eliminated and prevented in poor countries. However, giving away any extra wealth would not be the best way of approaching the issue. Aid programs in poor countries have been accused of mismanagement. Such programs have also been criticized for commencing business to benefit them instead of helping the poor. As such, giving away extra wealth may result to more mismanagement and financial instability to the donors. Proper management of funds and delivering non-emergency aid can be effective strategies of eradicating hunger and preventable diseases (Kuper & Singer, 2002, p. 107). Long-term projects can also be established in poor countries using the available donation like building hospitals and schools. Additionally, donation programs can invest in agriculture in poor countries because training residents on farming can create long-term solutions to hunger. Singer might have been more convincing to critics if he had emphasized that every individual should donate something to help poor countries.
Singer’s argument that the rich have extensive obligation to help the poor is convincing. Individuals in poor nations die every day of hunger and preventable diseases. Only an insignificant amount of money is required to save a child’s life in poverty-stricken countries. High infant mortality rates, maternal deaths, malaria, hunger, and other preventable causes continue to claim the lives of poor individuals. For example, Ebola has claimed lives in West Africa with the massive spread being facilitated by poverty. Medical facilities lack basic equipment like rubber gloves, which developed countries can easily make available through donation. Therefore, the rich have a moral duty to help the poor as asserted by Singer.
List of References
Anonymous. (2009). The life you can save: acting now to end world poverty. Ethics & International Affairs, 23 (2), 218.
Balogun, G. D. (2013). Remember the poor & needy among us. New York: Grace Religious Books Publishing & Distributors.
BBC. (2014). Peter Singer: It’s our duty to give. Retrieved from: http://www.bbc.co.uk/ethics/charity/duty_1.shtml
Campbell, C. C., & Steketee, R. (2011). Malaria in Africa can be eliminated. The American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene, 85 (4), 584-585.
Department for International Development. (2014). Improving the health of poor people in developing countries. Retrieved from: https://www.gov.uk/government/policies/improving-the-health-of-poor-people-in-developing-countries
Gething, P. W., Battle, K. E., Bhatt, S., Smith, D. L., Eisele, T. P., Cibulskis, R. E., et al. (2014). Declining malaria in Africa: improving the measurement of progress. Malaria Journal, 13 (1), 39.
Huseby, R. (2008). Duties and responsibilities towards the poor. Res Publica, 14, 1-14.
Kuper, A., & Singer, P. (2002). More than charity: Cosmopolitan alternatives to the “Singer solution” / Poverty, facts, and political philosophies: Response to “More than charity” / Facts, theories, and hard choices: Reply to Peter Singer / achieving the best outcome: Final rejoinder. Ethics & International Affairs, 16 (1), 107.
Posner, E. A., & Weisbach, D. (2010). Climate change justice. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
Ranganathan, B. (2012). ON helping one’s neighbor. Journal of Religious Ethics, 40 (4), 653-677.
Schaefer, G. (2011). Singer’s not-so persuasive solution to world poverty. Retrieved from: https://www2.bc.edu/~mathiepa/classmag/schaefer.htm
Unicef. (2014). Despite progress, 1,500 African children die daily from Malaria. Retrieved from: http://www.unicefusa.org/press/releases/despite-progress-1500-african-children-die-daily-malaria/8240
Wahlberg, K. (2008). Food Aid for the hungry? Retrieved from: https://www.globalpolicy.org/component/content/article/217-hunger/46251-food-aid-for-the-hungry.html
WHO. (2014). Malaria is alive and well and killing more than 3000 African children every day. Retrieved from: http://www.who.int/mediacentre/news/releases/2003/pr33/en/