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Misplaced Priorities: If We Can Raise Funds For Notre Dame, Why Not For 22,000 Children Dying Each Day Of Poverty?

Noor ul-Aien Sohail in this article argues that according to UNICEF, “22,000 children die each day due to poverty and hunger”. If within hours of fire, only three luxury brands could 565 million dollars for rebuilding Notre Dame, why does feeding these children seem like an impossible task?

On the 15th of April 2019 a devastating fire engulfed the medieval Catholic cathedral of Notre Dame. It was no surprise that the whole world mourned as the 850-year-old gothic masterpiece battled the blaze. Through social media and various digital platforms, individuals (including myself) from around the globe empathised with this tragic collapse of a structure that symbolises the European and French culture.

With its stained-glass windows, mesmerising paintings and majestic oak frame, there is no doubt that it is one of greatest architectural treasures of the world and is a home to priceless works of art and architecture.

Indeed, Notre Dame is a part of French history, psyche and literature and is one of the most popular attractions in the world, visited by about 13 million people a year. However, what immortalised it more was Victor Hugo’s novel ‘The hunchback of Notre Dame’ which was later (1996) picturised by Disney and almost became synonymous to the monumental national heritage.

It was no shock that crowds gathered on the bank of river Seine watched in horror; some sang Catholic liturgies, some were in tears and others on their knees; utterly helpless.

However, what gave hope to Paris and the rest of the world that day was the immediate and generous response of three of France’s wealthiest families.  The billionaires backing the giant luxury brands of the world; Kering, LVMH and L’Oreal, spearheaded a fundraising drive to rescue the iconic landmark of the world.

Within hours, these three fashion dynasties were able to raise a combined $565 million devoted to the restoration of the Notre Dame. This gesture invoked patriotism in other French companies such as the oil and gas company Total and other tech companies that pledged another $200 million for the cause.

It would be highly prejudiced and somewhat narrowminded to argue against allocating funds or raising donations for a structure that symbolises a whole civilisation. In fact, it is economically favourable that money is liquidated and spent on the restoration of Notre Dame so that it remains a significant part of European topography rather that some $200 million remain in an individual’s bank account.

Perhaps something to consider, however, is the scale and the immediacy of the action taken.

This world is inhabited by some 7.5 billion people, half of whom live below poverty lines and according to UNICEF “22,000 children die each day due to poverty and hunger”. The UN has estimated that it would cost $30 billion per year to eliminate world hunger. This seems like a lot of numbers and an impossible amount to raise. However, to think that just within hours of the fire, only 3 families out of the 7.5 billion inhabitants of this world could raise about 700 million dollars, doesn’t that seem like a lot of numbers?

The money is enough to shelter every poor and homeless and feed every hungry stomach in a whole country at the least. Take France as an example itself, which accounts for about 140,000 homeless people.

The idea is not to undermine in anyway the value or significance of the Notre Dame but to realise that stained glass, wooden carvings, bricks, paintings etc may melt, burn, break and turn to debris and ashes but is this more painful than bleeding, dehydrating, starving, shivering to death? The destruction of a globally recognised work of art and architecture may take with it a symbol of a specific culture, ethnicity and part of history but does that take priority over taking someone’s life?

Have we become so desensitised to human lives that we do not consider everyday suffering of the poor and homeless as an emergency? Have our priorities become so misplaced that saving an architectural site takes precedence over saving a life and feeding the hungry?

The question then remains, is eliminating global poverty and hunger and achieving the Millennium Development goals as challenging a task as it seems to be? If only 3 families of the world were able to fund the restoration of a church within hours then why does it take years to generate enough funds to build a school for the underprivileged children or fund health, sanitation and clean drinking water projects?

The money exists, humanity doesn’t.

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