Monday, June 4, 2012

Misinterpretations about the wealth and poverty of nations

Last week the Eurovision Song Contest 2012 was held. Some days earlier, the Spanish contestant Pastora Soler made some controversial statement insinuating that she was asked not to win this contest because Spain cannot afford to stage the next edition. And we quote: “Azerbaijan can afford it because we know that this is country has oil, but we do not, so we must first get out of our dire straits ".
Regardless of this controversial statement (which is curious enough because everybody knows how Eurovision Song Contest works), we should pay close attention to her words about Azerbaijan. Let’s start with some data from the website of Action against hunger:
  • Despite its wealth thanks to oil, 50% of Azerbaijani population lives under the poverty threshold.
  • Children chronic malnutrition rate is 25%.
  • 31.8% of children have low iron levels.
  • 20% of its population have no access to drinking water in good conditions.
  • 55% of its population have no basic sanitation.

Then, why does Pastora Soler think that Azerbaijan is a rich country? Because this country has lots of oil, which in turn generates wealth. Pastora Soler made a mistake which is common not only for contestants of such tacky international contests but also for the great majority of all of us: we often mistake GDP per capita for richness of the population.
This mistake is often reproduced in the world of sports. A typical and long debated case is Qatar, sponsoring Football Club Barcelona, which appears at the top of the list of richest countries according to GDP per capital, drawn by the International Monetary Fund. Football Club Barcelona and some supportive mass media argue that Qatar is a Switzerland-like nation of the Persian Gulf, but in fact Qatar is a dictatorship where immigrant workers (80% of its population) are exploited and women are legally discriminated.
[And to avoid resentment, we can add that Real Madrid Football Club is sponsored by Fly Emirates, the main airlines of Arab Emirates, another dictatorship with a similar situation as in Qatar, so it makes no difference...].
In short: Pastora Soler is not to be blamed because she did not do it out of malice. But we should be all more careful when talking about a country’s richness or poverty.

  1. Pastora Soler’s statement:
  2. Some data about Azerbaijan:
  3. List of countries according to their GDP per capita:
  4. 2011 report about human rights in Qatar drawn by Amnesty International:
  5. 2011 report about human rights in United Arab Emirates drawn by Amnesty International:


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