A new campaign created by one of the world’s leading creative agencies, DDB NY, has set the internet ablaze with its controversial attempt to raise awareness for the devastating problems currently facing many developing nations across the globe.
The advert, created for the charitable organisation Water is Life, features Haitian children and adults reading the everyday problems facing the so-called ‘first-world’ citizens posted on twitter with the now popular FirstWorldProblems hashtag.
The 1-minute video which amassed close to 1 million views in a week, features a young girl who complains “I hate it when I leave my clothes in the washer so long they start to smell” as the background shows several young Haitians washing their clothes in a river, and another scene which shows a young boy complain about a lunch order saying that “I hate it when I tell them no pickles and they still give me pickles”.
The campaign’s ultimate message is embodied in the final caption “#FirstWorldProblems are not problems.”
Of course the advert is guilt-inducing, showing the irrelevance of some so-called “western problems” when spoken by individuals living in abject poverty, and simplifies the reality facing many people both at home and abroad, in that those in the west also face serious problems such as access to healthcare and stagnating employment opportunities. But fundamentally in presenting the banality of some #FirstWorldProblems in stark contrast to real suffering, the advert is an effective and poignant way to contextualise ‘our problems’ in light of the circumstances facing many of the world’s 1.3 billion people who live in extreme poverty.
Importantly though, behind the simplistic dichotomy of ‘the industrialised world vs. the developing world’ and the diluted dialogue with those who live in extreme poverty, lies the message that more attention is required and greater resources need to be committed to the very real and pressing “#ThirdWorldProblems” that exist today.
For example on the issue of safe water and sanitation, the key priority on which this advert is based, UNICEF states that it is the world’s single largest cause of illness. The impact on children is particularly severe with approximately 4,500 children dying each day from unsafe water and a lack of sanitation facilities. The spread of disease from a lack of these basic amenities is truly crippling, such that a child born in sub-Saharan Africa is 520 times more likely to die from diarrhoeal disease than an infant in Europe or the US.
Regarding Haiti (the region showcased in the advert) the outbreak of water-borne diseases such as Cholera has decimated the population, with over
350,000 cases reported since October 2010. In Jacmel, one of the hardest-hit regions in Haiti, 22% of those who contract cholera die. The scale of the entirely preventable issue of contaminated water is such that it is now the leading cause of infant mortality in the children of Haiti, where in 2010 at 68 per 1000 live births (in comparison to 5 in the UK) this nation has the unenviable position of the highest infant mortality rate in the Western Hemisphere.
These are the real problems we as a global society need to address.
Developed or Developing, First World or Third World, today as global citizens we face issues of extreme importance that transcend borders, from the ongoing financial insecurity and levels of unemployment in the Eurozone, to the seemingly perennial problems of poverty, famine, sanitation and malnutrition amongst others, what DDB has tried to do is to re-focus our efforts on these pressing social concerns.
Therefore in a very real sense, by reflecting on the FirstWorldProblems hashtag we can at the very least start a broader debate on the real problems that need our attention and consider a collective response to issues which truly require collective action.
*Image credit: UN Photo/Logan Abassi