Is 'the third world' nearly as bad as its made out to be

Yes i’m an american, i guess its obvious.

But over here its not uncommon for the third world to be considered a land of abject poverty, no medicine, starvation, etc. However from what i’ve read on international news sources this is not necessarily the case, at least not nearly as much as people might think. Also lumping all non-developed countries into categories like the ‘third world’ or ‘developing world’ places countries like Somalia in the same category as a country like India, when the two are light years apart.

So what are some third world countries like? I know that question can’t really be answered since there are over 150 third world countries, but my understanding is most have a middle class that live a lifestyle not far removed from how developed countries lived 50 years ago, they also have a very small, super rich group and a large percentage of poor people. But how severe is the poverty? Do poor people have access to semi-competent medical care? Is starvation or malnutrition a severe problem. Is there alot of concern for the growing divide between rich and poor in third world countries.

What about places like Thailand, Cambodia, Argentina, Iran, Egypt, indonesia, Costa Rica or Brazil (since you can’t really give a good description of 150 nations at once). What are they like domestically in regards to rich vs poor, healthcare, nutrition, education or poverty.

There is no rich poor etc…etc… when you talk about places that are considered 3rd world. I have been in parts of Guatemala that would make your stomach turn, I have relatives in Tanzania and when we went to visit, some of the communities (if you can call them that) were so poor you can not even imagine. Do not think in terms of economics Wesley - or in terms of healthcare, nutrition, or anything like that. Take those ideas completely out of your mind, and I MEAN ERASED! There is no such thing as any of those when thinking about third world countries.

Poverty like you have never seen is basically what we were talking about.

Child mortality rate worse than even the poorest areas of America. Children so emaciated you can see nearly every bone on their body. If you want a decent, hollywood, rendition of what we are talking about see Angelina Jolie’s movie Beyond Borders. It shows some of what we are talking about here.

Third world means destitution like you have never seen. Americanized views are horrible blinder’s when talking about third world. I’d venture to say less than 20% of American’s understand what 3rd world is.

I’ve been to Thailand, Egypt, Indonesia, and Costa Rica, and currently live in Sri Lanka. I’d argue that Thailand, Egypt and Costa Rica deserve to be called second-world, or what we international politics scholars prefer to call the “global south.”

There’s no easy answer to your question, because even in some of the most undeveloped countries around the world, there are pockets of development and comfort. Sri Lanka, even though you don’t list it, can be considered first-, second- or -third world depending where you are. In the course of one day, I’ve literally gone from standing in an internally displaced person (IDP) camp, a minefield, a village that was flattened by mortar fire, to a five-star restaurant attached to a hotel that had two pools and a Cuban cigar store.

Some so-called third world countries are fairly crappy. Some can be quite nice, depending on what you go in expecting. Some of the poorer areas of Cambodia, I understand from my friends who are stationed there, can be really pretty and have surprisingly decent accomodations.

In answer to your question re malnutrition and access to healthcare, I can say that in the course of my work I’ve seen things that would make some people weeping lumps of jelly. It can get pretty bad.

I’m an aid worker and have spent a lot of time in the third world. I have seen people living in just abject poverty, I think Afghanistan was probably the worst off that I’ve seen.

Usually what I see are very very poor, often living pretty much the way their ancestors lived 200 years ago, but with Pepsi and sat. TV added in the mix.

What many of these societies share is a complete lack of what we would consider a middle class. Most people are very poor, a merchant class might be slightly less so, but still not prosperous by any stretch of the imagination and then a very wealthy elite.

In some places, this wealthy elite is as wealthy as a European or American level (a lot of time more wealthy) but some times their prosperity would be rated as “middle class” in Europe or the US. But in contrast with most people’s abject poverty, one can only consider them wealthy.

What I find striking is how much poor rural America reminds me of the third world. My in laws live in Arkansas and when we visit I am struck by how much I feel at “home” when I’m in some depressed community of rural poor. This isn’t a shot at Arkansas, just an observation.

I also see a lot of similarities in the attitudes of American rural poor and third worlders: deeply religous (often fundementalists), suspicious of the outside world and how it could influence their culture but also attracted to it, and in both cases very open to conspiracy theories because (IMHO) they feel they have very little power over their own lives and feel like someone else is pulling the strings.

Imagine someone your age never having seen a doctor, going to a grocery store or market, using a flush toilet, sleeping on a bed, never having even held a coin in their hands.

That is what its like for millions of people in third world countries.

Yeah i know. But what about Indias 200 million strong middle class? What about the fact that there are now more overweight people on earth than malnourished? even malnourishment may not be that important, because malnourishment was common in the developed world up until the early/mid 20th century and people still survived.

I know there is hell in the third world, but is this hell as everpresent as its made out to be?

Oh, rubbish - at least the way you’ve stated it. I’ve worked or travelled in Panama, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Peru, Ecuador, Venezuela, Zaire, Nigeria, Gabon, Cameroon, Madagascar, South Africa, India, and other places, often in the most remote and poverty-stricken areas. I agree with False-God that it depends entirely on where you are. Some countries considered “third-world” have fairly decent conditions. Others vary drastically from place to place. In others I would agree with you that conditions are pretty abysmal throughout.

To take Panama for an example, although income distribution is bad, and there is plenty of poverty, nobody is starving, and most people are well nourished. Health care is decent in the cities and even in the smaller towns, and is mostly free (at least for basic services). The government has established clinics and schools even in quite remote areas where there are no roads (though supplies may be in short supply). Panama surely can’t be considered the kind of hell-hole you are portraying the entire Third World to be.

I would agree, however, that most Americans can’t imagine the level of poverty and misery found in parts of the Third World (what is sometimes called the “Fourth World,” places that are actually going backwards. There are parts of Lagos and Lima and many other places that are horrific. But simply lumping the whole Third World together as you do doesn’t reflect reality.

( BTW, “Second World” historically referred to the Communist states of the Soviet Union and its satellites, as opposed to the capitalist developed countries of the :“First World.” Rather than “Second World” it might be better to call non-First World countries that are somewhat better off “semi-developed.”

Yeah, I always make that distinction between ‘developing’ countries and PJ O’Rourke’s definition of ‘those parts of the world that are totally screwed’.

I’ve travelled through the middle east and central America. Some places were abjectly poor but many place were, at a minimum, modernizing and could be considered on par with the US of the 30s to 50s. That isn’t rich but it’s also not starving in the streets.

And heck, in some areas of the soi-disant ‘third world’ things ain’t half bad. That isn’t to say everyone’s wealthy but there’s a growing middle class and aspirations of the poor to attain that level.

–Who else?

My mother grew up in India as part of the middle class. Her life wasn’t as lax and quiet as it is here but it wasn’t impoverished. She has told me about the poverty she saw there and how terrible it was. People suffering and starving all throughout the slums.
It is interesting to note however that she visited New York for a brief period and found the standard of living there for the poor to be worse. In India slums she occasionally someone would come up begging for money but that she could handle. In New York however there was a fear of being robbed or worse when in the shadier areas.

When did she grow up? I was watching a frontline story on outsourcing and they showed a middle class indian couple. They all looked well fed (they ate at pizza hut), they drove scooters to and from work, they had clean clothes, they looked healthy, had a nice home, etc. And this is at odds with the stereotype of the third world which is a place of rampant starvation and people dying for lack of 20 cent medications. Although true those parts of the third world exist i don’t know how common or severe that aspect of the developing world really is.

I think we really have to be clear of our word usage here. I admit I’m not an expert at what the precise deffinitions are, but it seems Wesley Clark and others are using somewhat different understandings of the term “third world”. To be precise, I would NOT consider Panama or India to be third world. So to an extend I agree with Wesley. In fact, it seems most of the descriptions so far would suggest “second world” or devlopping nations. To me at least, Third World by deffinition implies abject poverty. Think Ethopia.

Well, you’re using a definition of “Third World” (and “Second World” also) that is different than the standard one then.

From Merriam Webster:

Cecil on the origin of the phrase:

What’s the origin of “Third World”? What are the first and second worlds?

“First World” historically was the industrialized capitalist world, including the U.S., Canada, Western Europe, Japan, Australia, and New Zealand. “Second World” was the industrialized Communist bloc, including the Soviet Union and its European satellites. This “Second World” no longer exists. “Third World” originally applied to the non-aligned, non-industrial countries, notably India, Egypt, and others. Now it really means any underdeveloped country.

As Cecil says, the distinction if any is between “Third World” countries, which are actually making progress (such as India and Panama), and “Fourth World” countries that are stagnant or going backwards (such as Somalia).

Well, I’ve only got one “Third-World Country” visit under my belt, but I can tell you what I saw there.

I spent three months studying in Kenya at the end of 2002. I stayed mostly in Southern Kenya, and all of my studying was done in Maasai land.

The children weren’t usually skin and bones, but the cows were. There was little grass to graze on in some areas where there were tons of cows. Corrugated aluminum housing was “luxury” in that area. I helped some Maasai women get water from both the Athi and the Nolturesh rivers. The water the second time was carried in old Mobil Oil containers, about the size of an antifreeze bottle. Most people living in the area would have liked to visit a national park or reserve, but couldn’t afford the fees. At the time it was just under 80 Kenyan shillings to 1 US dollar. I found a 10 Tanzanian shilling piece there and was told that it was worth about 1 Kenyan shilling. A private school in the second area I stayed at washed all their clothes in the Nolturesh, and then hung them to dry on the fence by the road.

Do you know what “lion-proofing” a goat pen means? I found out it simply means adding about 5 foot tall chain-link fencing all around the wooden fencing so the lions can’t stick their paws in and grab a kid (goat). To hyena-proof, all that needs to be done is bury the fencing a bit. But to leopard proof the pen, you effectively need to put a roof on it, since they are excellent climbers.

In the second area I was in, most medicinal plants were thorny acacia trees and were also used for fencing. The nearest hospital was an hour away by car, and it was filled to the gills. The nearest eye doctor was four hours away by car, in Nairobi.

But in Nairobi, there was a mall called the Serit Center that would not been out of place in most American cities. While on break from my studies, I saw “Bourne Identity” there. I visited a house that I would not mind having here, and a coffee shop that I would love to go back to. Also on break, I visited Lake Baringo’s Island Camp, a lovely tented camp owned by an English woman. As a friend on the same break trip put it, “Yeah, it was a tent. But calling it a tent is like calling the Mona Lisa a painting.” Technically true, but not even close to conveying the reality of tiled bathroom additions to each tent and tea and biscuts (cookies) served to your door at any time in the morning you wanted them.

Corruption ran/runs rampent in the Kenyan government. I was lucky enough to be there during an election cycle, and not just any election cycle. I got to watch as Daniel Moi, the Kenyan leader of 26 years, was being forced to step down due to laws imposing term limits on Kenyan presidents. The Kenyan people eventually rejected his hand-picked successor and voted in a man he had thrown in jail many years before. (The elections were suposed to occur while I was there, but occured the next March.) So maybe there is hope that the corruption can eventually be cleaned out. But it is going to take a very long while if it does happen.

Most people I met in Kenya lived in what Americans would call dismal conditions. But there did seem to be people who lived very well, even by our standards. So it’s hard to say. Kenya (Nairobi) is home to the largest slum in East Africa, as I understand it. Unfortunately, I don’t recall the name, just that it starts with an “M”. It’s also home to the Serit Center and some of the nicest housing I’ve ever been in.

I don’t know if that helps you or not. Just some food for thought.

The third world can be better and worse than what it is made out to be:

Sao Paulo has the world’s largest helicopter concentration on private hands. Then again, there are perhaps some x hundred thousands slaves in Brazil…

Is ‘the third world’ nearly as bad as its made out to be

It’s not that bad. I have broadband :stuck_out_tongue:

Wes: you’re a college student, aren’t you?

I highly recommend that you take one of your school breaks and take a trip somewhere. Yeah, college students don’t have money, but look – you have time that you won’t have when you start working. Plus, traveling in the Third World is a fantastic learning experience. Just save up your money, cut down on some non-essential purchases, buy a ticket on a credit card and consider it part of your college debt. Don’t worry about not knowing the language or anything, just get a Lonely Planet travel guide and go somewhere interesting and off the beaten track.

I think the most tangible difference for Americans between life here and over “there” (wherever that is) is unpredictability. Even in many semi-developed countries where a good number of people live a middle class (for them) lifestyle, electricity is spotty, hot water does not just come out of the tap, phones don’t work, governments operate at the whim of petty bureaucrats (as opposed to the rules that the bureaucrats are supposed to follow), roads are not paved so buses get flat tires or break down regularly, and you have to bargain at markets for the food that you want to buy.

Except for the poorest of the poor areas, Coke and cigarettes are available everywhere, but that doesn’t mean that people have the money to buy them. In Laos, I met a bunch of kids who nearly exploded in joy when I gave them an empty Pepsi can to play with. There are great disparities in wealth, in which the bulk of the people often live a peasant-like lifestyle, with one set of clothes, very little access to cash, and a complete dependence on the labor of their families and the support of their neighbors.

Oh, yeah, and nobody grows up taking trips in the family car. That means that when folks get on buses to go to town or something, they get car sickness very easily. Barfing on buses in low income countries is, in my experience, quite common.

You should read this series in the LA Times. You have to create a user name and log on, but it is free and I have never gotten any spam from it.

It is a six part series about people in sub-Saharan Africa. It covers everything from food to clothing to health care. If you don’t feel like crying by the time you are done reading it then you probably don’t have a heart.

There’s been a lot of nonsense talked on this thread, IMHO. I have visited several “third-world” countries, and they’re not “death and disease on the streets”. Sure people live simply, but generally the majority of people can get by from day to day just fine.

“Think Ethiopia,” said Trigonal Planar. Well, here’s news for you: sure they had terrible droughts back in the 1980s – we all remember Live Aid – but Ethiopia is actually a very green and fertile place. People don’t live too badly there.

I think what we’ve learned in this thread is that characterizing five billion people as all being the same, under the banner “The Third World,” is pretty silly.

You can go places where people have nothing. Two million children a year shit themselves to death because they don’t even have clean water. There are people in the “Third World” who have absolutely squat and for whom life is a day to day struggle.

You can also go places in the “Third World” where people are living pretty good. A friend of mine just got back from Thailand; in his words “If you see a Thai without a cellphone, he must have lost it in the last ten minutes.” I dated a girl from Colombia who certainly was not poor.

Often these places are a thirty minute drive apart.

Tell me; how is life in the United States? Is it the soft of lifestyle enjoyed by overpaid CEOs? Or is it the sort of lifestyle “enjoyed” by the hopelessly poor on the mean streets of Philadelphia?