On 17 June, Afghan filmmakers Massood Ziaee, Mohammed Tamim Abdullah, Airokhsh Faiz Quasary and Sayed Suleiman Amanzad watched as their short film documenting the challenges of life in Afghanistan premiered at the Open City London Film Festival. It was one of dozens of films from the US, UK, Europe and Asia that were screened over the course of the week.
Produced with the help of the International Public Affairs Media Group and Afghan Voices,an organisation that helps train and develop young Afghanis to express themselves through media, the film explores topics such as social exclusion and learning to drive as an Afghan woman. Following the film, the filmmakers from Herat, Maimama and Bamyam in Afghanistan told the Evening Standard how they were fascinated with the capital and are keen to progress with a new project: filming the shocking reality of life on London’s streets.
22 year old Mohammed told the paper how the reality of London’s homeless population came as a surprise; clouded by a perception of the UK as a shining beacon of wealth and prosperity:
"In Afghanistan, we do not think that homelessness is something you would have in the Western world. We thought you have no problems, everyone has cars, everyone has nice houses. We thought it would be very interesting to look at this problem and to make this film."
At the Global Poverty Project, we find Mohammed’s comments interesting because they remind us of how our views of how the world works are shaped by the images we see in the media.
Media across the world, as in Afghanistan, has the same tendency to base notions of the developed world on an ideal that is often inaccurate – based largely on American and British TV shows that depict liberal attitudes to wealth and consumption, advertise expensive cars and discuss the dramas of highly-paid footballers (and their girlfriends). As Mohammed and his colleagues prepare for their latest project, we take a sneak peak at some of the statistics they might find.
For example, the UK’s latest attempt to count the number of ‘rough sleepers’ in England estimated 1,768 people, 415 of which were living on the streets of London in 2010. This figure equates to about 12 people sleeping rough alone in every single borough of the capital - and does not include homeless persons in transitory or temporary accommodation where figures are much higher.
Statistics for the total number of approved homeless in England, based on those who qualify for homelessness assistance or are waiting for accommodation, was a staggering 48,240 in March 2011. That’s almost as many people as live in the entire state of Monaco and Palau put together. The UK was also recently described by UNICEF as 18th out of 22 countries in Europe for the highest level of children living in poverty in 2011.
Figures for other developed countries such as Australia and the US show a similar story. For example, Australia’s unemployment rate is currently 4.9% with the US ahead of most other countries at more than 9% this month. In 2009, there were also 300,000 Americans living below the US government’s poverty line - a figure that is rising substantially with inflation and unemployment in 2010/11.
These figures may not be surprising - but what if I was to tell you that the World Bank has revealed that India and China are close to halving the number of people living in extreme poverty before 2015? Or that Tanzania has already reached 95% of the Millennium development goal (MDG) for providing universal primary education to children before 2015, with Tajikistan and Myanmar not far behind?
Like homelessness and poverty in the UK, these improvements are sometimes invisible at the local level in the developed world – but achievements in fighting poverty are an important motivator for future progress and reflect a global effort, whether it be developmental educational programs for girls in Afghanistan, or Afghan filmmakers raising awareness for London’s homeless.
To find out how the fight against extreme poverty is changing the world right now, you can book our groundbreaking 1.4 Billion Reasons presentation here.