More scary than Halloween

World’s poverty is frightening

It’s that time of year. The scary movies — like “Crimson Peak” and “The Last Witch Hunter” — are out. The costumes, like the Scream face, vampire teeth or witch hats are on the store shelves. The tombstones and skeletons are popping up in yards.

Halloween is the second largest holiday — after Christmas — for retail spending. This year, Americans will spend $6.9 billion on Halloween, according to the National Retail Federation (NRF).

Everyone likes a good scare now and then: who hasn’t told ghost stories around a campfire or read about Edgar Allan Poe’s raven?

However, each year one can’t help but notice that there are even more scary things out there. This year, it’s the lives of more than 4 million Syrian refuges traveling through Greece and Eastern Europe as winter draws steadily nearer. Then there are the nature-related crises like the 7.5 magnitude earthquake in Afghanistan and Pakistan on Oct. 26, and the flooding of Hurricane Patricia in Mexico and the southern U.S.

Confirmed cases of Ebola remain low, although three new cases were reported last week in Guinea, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), which reports that, this past year, 29,490 people died of the dreaded disease. According to WHO’s most recent statistics — 2012 — another 4 million people die worldwide annually from AIDS/HIV, diarrheal diseases and tuberculosis.

Then there is world hunger. Recently, good news was reported by the United Nations that, for the first time since such data has been collected, the percentage of people living in extreme poverty is dropping to below 10 percent. However, as Filipino Archbishop Bernardito Auza, the Vatican’s permanent observer to the U.N., told Catholic News Service Oct. 13, “The number of people still living in extreme poverty continues to be unacceptably high. The more than 700 million extremely poor remind us of the magnitude of the challenge still ahead.” Extreme poverty is defined as living on less than the equivalent of $2 a day.

Poverty includes being homeless, lacking clean drinking water, access to healthcare and hunger. The U.N.’s Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that 805 million people — out of the world’s population of 7.3 billion — suffered chronic undernourishment from 2012 to 2014.

What would it cost to eliminate world hunger? According to the U.N., that’s about $30 billion a year.

Remember the $7 billion that Americans spend on Halloween? Here is an even scarier statistic that has nothing to do with Halloween: The NRF expects Christmas sales, this year alone, to reach $630.7 billion in the United States.

Pope Francis has called world poverty “a scandal.” In 2013, he said, “In a world where there is so much wealth, so many resources to feed everyone, it is unfathomable that there are so many hungry children, that there are so many children without an education, so many poor persons. Poverty today is a cry.”

Cries, screams and howls — as well as laughter — are a part of Halloween. They mean fun, at least for most people.

But cries of loss and the screams and howls of pain, fear and hunger are not fun. When you look at the dollar amounts, it wouldn’t take much away from our holiday spending if only 10 percent of it went to hunger relief instead of decorations. When you get those requests for help during this time of year — such as (for both hurricane and earthquake relief and Syrian refugee aid) — give them a second look. Then maybe everyone can have a treat that says good-bye to hunger.