BBC film series asks: Why Poverty?

The BBC, working with a non-profit called Steps and other media (mostly local public broadcast stations) today will begin airing a multi-part documentary series called Why Poverty? in which:

“Award-winning film makers (were selected) to make eight documentaries about poverty, and new and emerging talents to make around 30 short films. The films tackle big issues and pose difficult questions, but they’re also moving, subtle and thought-provoking stories.”

Basically, the in-depth series seeks to answer the question: Why does poverty exist?

The extent of this project would indicate, on the face of it, that the reasons one billion people on the planet live in extreme poverty are many and complex, and ending poverty very challenging indeed. Perhaps. But I remember what Dr. Bill Foege, the physician who defeated smallpox and, in my opinion, one of the most influential voices in global health and development, once said in answer to this same question posed at a forum at Seattle Town Hall:

“Poverty exists because so many of us benefit from it,” Foege said.

We can make it sound complicated, as if poverty exists due to some natural or economic law of inequality — much as we used to look at slavery. Slavery used to be considered part of the natural order of things and essential to the welfare of many businesses. Do we tolerate poverty today like we once tolerated slavery?

I look forward to seeing if this film series advances our understanding of the causes of poverty in a way that encourages more aggressive efforts to end the root causes, rather than just make us all feel good by once again expressing despair and moral outrage.

Guardian Documentary film-makers join forces to expose the evil of global poverty

Guardian Experts speak ou on how to end global poverty

Project website Why Poverty?


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Tom Paulson

Tom Paulson is founder and lead journalist at Humanosphere. Prior to operating this online news site, he reported on science,  medicine, health policy, aid and development for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Contact him at tom[at] or follow him on Twitter @tompaulson.