Atanu Dey On India's Development

The Sustaining of Poverty

The Oxfam America site asks In a World of Abundance, Why Hunger? (July 8, 2002)

Poverty and hunger are the world’s greatest challenges

  • 1.2 billion people–one out of five–live on less than $1 a day.
  • More than 800 million people are hungry, including 31 million in the United States.
  • Every day, 24,000 people die from hunger and other preventable causes. One billion people do not have adequate shelter, and 2.4 billion people do not have access to proper sanitation. More than 1 billion people in developing countries lack access to safe water.
  • Yet enough food is produced in the world to feed everyone.
  • Overpopulation is not the main cause of hunger. In Japan, a densely populated country with 125 million people, hunger is rare compared to other countries. Many larger countries with fewer people, like Peru and Sudan, have much higher rates of hunger.
  • The problem is inequality in access to education, resources, and power.

I have a slightly different take on the question of poverty and hunger. I think that ultimately, without the active participation of the world’s poor, poverty cannot be sustained. I believe that we have been looking for the solution to poverty everywhere else except at the source of poverty. The source of poverty is the poor. The poor sustain poverty.

I am not absolving anyone of blame by locating the source of sustained poverty among the poor. On the contrary, the non-poor also actively participate in helping the poor sustain poverty. But in the ultimate analysis, the poor have the power to kill poverty. How to awaken them to that realization is the challenge that those who wish to see poverty eradicated face.

  • tsquared

    Very good point. Most People have this romantic notion about the poor. It is politically incorrect to say but the fact is the poor are as complicit as the rich and the exploiters. Why should the poor man, who cannot feed himself, have more than one kid? There are all kinds of explanations and excuses; but all said and done, it is child abuse. China is often criticised for forcing one child norm. But IMO, it is the most humane thing China is doing.

  • Shiboo

    The non-poor have a greater role in eradicating poverty than the poor. The poor, unfortunately, have to necessarily have their minds focused on feeding all the mouths that they are responsible for; they don’t have the time or the energy to think about, let alone act on the measure that would reduce or eradicate poverty in the society. The most they can do is think about their own or their families’ poverty.
    The non-poor have the time to think and act on things besides the search for food.

    We know from reading about and seeing the world (not just the US and Western Europe, but also Japan, Taiwan, Singapore, Malaysia) the the key elements of a society that has managed to reduce poverty are as follows:
    1. A vibrant & growing manufacturing base
    2. An open attitude towards domestic and international trade
    3. A healthy services sector
    4. A Government that has a hands-off approach towards trade other than ensuring that all contracts, verbal and written, between various parties, are fair and are honored
    5. A Judicial system that places a high priority on quick resolution of all litigation, whether criminal or civil.
    6. A culture of accountability to which all elites, in government and business, are subject.

    When you all of these elements, the unemployment, underemployment and exploitation of the poor will cease or dramatically decrease and they will have the time to think about things higher up than their bellies. Then they will be able to work on ensuring the sustainability of the above elements, being non-poor, it will become their responsibility as it is ours at present.

    Atanu’s response: What creates and sustains poverty is a matter that can be analysed separately from the question of who is more capable of eradicating poverty or who has the responsibility. My claim is that the poor are the ground which breeds poverty. That there is a seed somewhere and that the seed may have been planted by someone does not argue against the vital importance of the presense of the ground for poverty to flourish.

    I agree that the non-poor are better placed relative to the poor to root out poverty. But the persistence of poverty has to a large extent the responsibility of the poor.

  • http://parvativetri.blogspot.com Parvati

    I agree with Shiboo – I think that when the Government of a nation does all that needs to be done, in giving free right of way for the economy to flourish, sets right its own responsibilities of looking after the Defence needs, the Justice system efficiently, then we can say that each person is responsible for his state of poverty or wealth. It will be completely upto the individual to make maximum use of the good the Govt. has done for its citizens, create wealth for himself through education and getting good jobs and hard work, or not do so and lead a lazy and poor life.

    Only then we can freely say that the onus of removing poverty is on the poor, as then there would be nobody else to blame.Not the rich, not the bureaucrats, not the Government that is the King where everything goes.

    Otherwise, all are involved, all are to blame, all are helpless spectators and contributors to the extensive poverty in the land.

    Atanu’s response: Parvati, what I stress is that the poor are perhaps the biggest source of poverty. The matter of who is capable of eradicating poverty is a different matter.

  • Yesudas

    Hey,

    Totally agree with your post on Poverty, and indeed this is the biggest challenge.
    I recently attended a talk from an Organisation called Kudumbashree based in Trivandrum. They have an interesting model of allievating poverty. You might wanna have a look at it, this is their link http://www.kudumbashree.org

    Regards

    Yesudas

    Atanu’s response: Thanks for the link, Yesudas.

  • http://sasiprize.blogspot.com Jawahar Mundlapati

    “I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I do and I understand.”–Confucius

    “How do I understand poverty?”
    I understood by voluntarily NOT taking food and water for 48 hours. Had I continued I would have been dead by end of 3rd day.

    “What is my first step in alleviating poverty?”
    I’ve donated my body organs posthumously.
    It helped me to see beyond sarcasm and hypocrisy.

    “What is my future course of action?”
    I’m very conscious on every time I “buy” a product or service. I prefer to buy from poor people. It gives them “hope” and will help them to do better.

  • http://www.businessmodeldesign.com Alex Osterwalder

    Poverty is quite a complex issue and has different roots in different environments. I think it is dangerous to generalize about poverty and the Poor. But I do agree that poverty alleviation indeed needs the participation of the Poor. A sustainable response to poverty has to be based on local ownership. However, this can only be achieved when international organisations and NGOs believe in the capacity of the Poor and support them rather than patronize them. Today’s ineffectiveness in fighting can partially be explained by a top-down approach of specialists that believe they know how to fight poverty… however, the best approach to fighting poverty would be to let the “successful poor” share their success stories of what worked among their peers. I will guarantee that such a peer-to-peer approach among the Poor would have more impact than raining money on them because it builds on local ownership and pride among the previously disrespected!