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The challenge of global poverty


 The challenge of global poverty

Poverty 1024px-Jakarta_slumhome_2


The challenge of global poverty
The global distribution of poverty.
Causes of poverty.
Addressing poverty on a global scale, including the work by international agencies such as the United Nations.


What you need to know:

Global distribution

The World Bank defines extreme poverty as living on less than US $1.25 per person per day (PPP), and moderate poverty as less than $2 a day. This may or may not include subsistence farmers who have little cash, but a reasonable standard of living. It estimates that ‘in 2001, 1.1 billion people had consumption levels below $1 a day and 2.7 billion lived on less than $2 a day.’ The dollar in this case is based the purchasing power parity, which would look at how much local currency is needed to buy the same things that a dollar could buy in the United States.

World Bank Organization describes poverty in this way:
“Poverty is hunger. Poverty is lack of shelter. Poverty is being sick and not being able to see a doctor. Poverty is not having access to school and not knowing how to read. Poverty is not having a job, is fear for the future, living one day at a time.
Poverty has many faces, changing from place to place and across time, and has been described in many ways. Most often, poverty is a situation people want to escape. So poverty is a call to action — for the poor and the wealthy alike — a call to change the world so that many more may have enough to eat, adequate shelter, access to education and health, protection from violence, and a voice in what happens in their communities.”
A major concern of ours has been about the imbalance on a global scale between population growth and the resource base of the world. Especially with inequalities in economic growth, development and welfare between countries. At the lowest level are those in poverty – those earning less than $1.08 a day.


The proportion of the developing world’s population living in extreme economic poverty fell from 28 per cent in 1990 to 21 per cent in 2001. Most of this improvement has occurred in East and South Asia. In East Asia the World Bank reported that The poverty headcount rate at the $2-a-day level is estimated to have fallen to about 27 per cent [in 2007], down from 29.5 per cent in 2006 and 69 per cent in 1990.’In Sub-Saharan Africa extreme poverty went up from 41 per cent in 1981 to 46 per cent in 2001[which combined with growing population increased the number of people living in extreme poverty from 231 million to 318 million.

Esher poverty-in-africa

What are the indicators of poverty? The term poverty, as we have seen from the quote above, World Bank, encapsulates many facets – it’s a broad term.

Economic – Gross National Product (GNP) – value of goods and services produced by a country then divided by the population. This has divided the world into the developed (rich) north and the developing (poor) south. It has however become outdated due to the fact that it is a lot more complex especially for countries like China. (WHY?)


Demographic and social indicators – The following are examples of these indicators: birth rate, death rate, fertility rate, infant mortality, life expectancy, access to drinking water, enrolment in primary school, adult literacy, number of people per doctor, telephone ownership, urban population.

People per doctor - worldmapper

People per doctor – worldmapper

Composite quality of life indicators

Composite indicies have been developed which measure a number of quality of life indicators. These are considered better measures than single indicators like economic wealth.

One way to determine how countries are doing is to plot them on the Human Development Index (HDI)

Zambia – rank -141 (0,558)– life expectancy 55
South Africa – rank 118 (0,658)– life expectancy 61
UK – rank 14 (0,892) – life expectancy 81

Physical Quality of Life Index (PQLI) is an attempt to measure the quality of life or well-being of a country. The value is the average of three statistics – basic literacy rate, infant mortality and life expectancy at age one. All are weighed on a 0 to 100 scale.

The Physical Quality of Life Index (PQLI) is a summation of complex social interrelationships on which no theoretical explanation imposes any given weights/biases. Equal weight is assigned to each component. The life expectancy in Nigeria is 49, infant mortality, 180/1000, and literacy, 25%. The PQLI is 25. The life expectancy at age 1 in the U.S. is 72, infant mortality 16/1000, and literacy 99%, and the PQLI is 94. The PQLI informs about the changing distribution of social benefits among countries, between the sexes, among ethnic groups, and by region and sector. The PQLI facilitates international and regional comparisons by minimizing developmental and cultural ethnocentricities. As the gap closes between current performance and maximum attainable performance, the gaps between PQLI indicies should close. The PQLI, with signs of lowered infant mortality and lengthened life expectancy, paints a less fatalistic pessimistic picture than the GNP.”

Global distribution of poverty

Poverty - worldmapper

Poverty – worldmapper

Human poverty

Extreme poverty – in the YouTube clip below Hans Rosling explains how a Billion people moved out of extreme poverty. However, within which country do we see the most movement and which country doesn’t really move at all – stays static?

Causes: A number of factors interrelate in terms of creating such poverty. They are:

• subsistence farming economies
• malnourishment (famine – see below)
• short term disasters: floods, droughts, plagues of locusts, war (see below). E.g. Famine is often associated with poverty. There are several causes of famine:
• Drought – lack of rainfall causes soil and groundwater sources to decline which ultimately leads to a reduction in the supply of water. The soil will eventually not meet the needs of particular plants and agriculture crops, creating serious problems for areas that dependon farming, both arable and pastoral.
• A population increase that is greater than the rate of crop (food) production. This often occurs in areas where there is a sudden influx of refugees, fleeing a war zone or an area of civil unrest. It can also occur as people migrate from one drought zone to another.
• A rapid rise in the price of foodstuffs and/or animals. This can occur when the quality of farmland and grazing land declines in quality (often during a drought), but is further compounded by a breakdown in the local economy and marketing systems. Control mechanisms react too slowly and inflationary price rises fuel panic buying, which rapidly lead to shortages of basic food stuffs.

Fertility MDG--Generosity-help-poor-005

Due to the issue with poverty the Millennium Development Goals were signed in 2000 (UN Millennium Declaration) Addressing poverty on a global scale.

The UN summit of 2000 agreed 8 Millennium Development Goals (MDG) to tackle extreme poverty in its many dimensions. These goals are


• eradicate extreme poverty and hunger
• achieve universal primary education
• promote gender equality and empower women
• reduce child mortality
• improve maternal health
• combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases
• ensure environmental sustainability
• develop a global partnership for development.

WHY are the numbers set out in this manner? Is there a sequence or order of importance?

This is the most important Millennium Development Goal – it is the foundation for all the others – everything hinges on this one.

Aim: To halve the proportion of people whose income is less than $1 a day, to achieve full and productive employment and decent work for all, and to halve the proportion of people who suffer from hunger. Hunger figures are based on the number of underweight children under five, and the proportion of the population below the minimum level of dietary energy consumption.

Guardian – MDG – Poverty

The World has enough food for all but millions of people still suffer from hunger.

The MDG1 aims at removing the factors responsible for poverty.

Most developing countries have good rates of economic growth; but the gap between the rich and the poor is widening.

The proportion of people living on less than $1 a day has decreased but 925 million people still suffer from chronic hunger. One in every five children in the developing world is still underweight.

In the world, 22% people still live on less than 1.25 dollars a day. There are countries like Liberia and Sierra Leone where high percentages of the population live in misery.

The impact of poverty is the hardest on the most vulnerable groups of the poorest segments of the population. – children, women and disabled. Children that are malnourished when they reach their second birthday, could suffer permanent physical and cognitive damage.

GOAL 1: Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger
Target 1A: Halve the proportion of people living on less than $1 a day
Target 1B: Achieve full and productive employment and decent work for all, including women and young people
Target 1C: Halve the proportion of people who suffer from hunger
Watch the YouTube clip below dealing with malnutrition and hunger and answer the following questions:

1. Why has there been success in Asia but very little in Africa?

2. Even though the proportion of people worldwide suffering from malnutrition and hunger has increased access to it has fallen – why?

How successful has Millennium Development Goal 1 been?

Read – The  Millennium Development Goals Report – link below (2014)

Click to access MDG%202014%20English%20web.pdf

Case study for MDG 1 – Phnom Penn, Cambodia.

“The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) have been the most successful global anti-poverty push in history.” ( Ban Ki-moon,  Secretary-General, United Nations)

This statement is true however what else has ever been done for those in extreme poverty on a global scale?

The MDG report provides the following facts regarding Goal 1 (Pg 6MDG Report 2013):

  • Poverty rates have been halved and about 700 million fewer people lived in conditions of extreme poverty in 2010 than in 1990.
  • The economic and financial crisis has widened the global jobs gap by 67 million people.
  • One in eight people will still go to bed hungry, despite major progress.
  • Globally, nearly one in six children under age five are underweight; one in four are stunted.
  • An estimated 7 per cent of children under age five worldwide are now overweight, another aspect of malnutrition; one quarter of these children live in sub-Saharan Africa.

The report goes on to say that it has reached its target for Millennium Goal 1:

New poverty estimates from the World Bank have confirmed last year’s finding that the world reached the MDG target five years ahead of the 2015 deadline. In developing regions, the proportion of people living on less than $1.25 a day fell from 47 per cent in 1990 to 22 per cent in 2010. About 700 million fewer people lived in conditions of extreme poverty in 2010 than in 1990. (Pg 7 MDG Report 2013)


We can end poverty.

We can end poverty.



Think global act local – addressing poverty on a global scale

it is now considered that “grassroots” or “bottom up” small scale projects tend to work better at raising living standards in poor areas. This is due to the fact that there is a lot more local consultation with regard to specific needs and use of local knowledge and expertise.

The emphasis is on using appropriate or intermediate technology which is affordable, available locally and uses local skills and materials to encourage self reliance and self-sufficiency.


Riders for Health and their work in Kenya

Geographical Issue Evaluation

No Development Without Security or No Security Without Development?


What is development?

The sustainable improvement of the well-being, equality and freedom of a country’s citizens through advancements in services and infrastructure such as education, healthcare and employment.

What is security?

Safety from threats including conflict and crime, hunger and disease; established through a well governed and policed society. Freedom from fear and from want; protection from sudden and hurtful disruptions to daily life; knowledge that time and money invested in education will improve one’s chances in life.

Although these terms may seem very similar the key difference is that development involves growth/improvement/change over the long-term whereas security is the short-term/immediate safety that allows you to think about improving your life and conversely is achieved by the improvement of your life.

How do they interact?
The main point to understand is that these two factors tend to go hand in hand; they can be seen as ‘interdependent’ or ‘mutually reinforcing’: most rich and developed countries are also secure, while many poor and undeveloped countries are insecure. The issue up for discussion is why this is and is traditionally looked at in two ways:

No development without security

Development can’t happen unless a place is secure first. Not only this but insecurity can actually cause development to go backwards, i.e. insecurity can cause poverty. This lack of security could be a war that destroys infrastructure and disrupts education; it could be an environmental disaster that has similar effects. It could also be something more subtle such as poor environmental conditions (e.g. water insecurity) or poor political and economic conditions (e.g. insecurity of land tenure) that make it difficult for people to improve their lives.

No security without development

A place cannot become secure unless it reaches a certain level of development first. In fact, a lack of development (i.e. impoverished conditions) can actually cause a place to become more insecure.  This is because without a good infrastructure and organised policing system crime will be more prevalent, and without a good quality of life citizens will be more likely to engage in crime or even armed struggles to try to improve their lives. Without a good irrigation system a farmer cannot have food security as he doesn’t know when the next crop failure could occur. Without an earthquake proof house it is difficult to be secure from hurtful disruptions to daily life if you know your house could collapse and kill you at any minute.

The complexity of the relationship is illustrated by Lael Brainard who describes the link between poverty (i.e. a lack of development) and insecurity as a ‘tangled web’ but summarises by simply saying:

‘Poverty is both a cause of insecurity and a consequence of it’


No development without security

Nigeria’s insecure government has hindered development                                     

 ‘In the short run it’s hunky dory, but in the long run, it’s humpty dumpty’  – Paul Collier

He found that all countries who discovered and exported a new resource such as oil experienced significant short-term growth in GDP, but that countries with a poor system of governance (i.e. political insecurity) ended up worse off than before in the long term, whilst countries with good governance continued to see an increase in GDP. This is known as the ‘resource curse’ and illustrates how difficult it is for insecure countries to develop long-term.

Nigeria is the third biggest economy in Africa, largely due to its discovery and export of oil since the 1950s. In 2000 oil and gas exports accounted for 98% of Nigeria’s earnings and GDP more than doubled between 2005 and 2010. At first the discovery of oil led really stimulated the economy and gave the population great hopes for development. However, today 45% of people still live below the poverty line. Most Nigerians are now poorer than they were in the 1960s.

This is because Nigeria had such a poor system of governance when the oil was discovered, i.e. it was insecure. This lead to the following events that hindered development and even made it go backwards in the long run:

  • Nigeria’s oil industry is extremely corrupt meaning that 80% of the country’s energy revenues benefit only 1% of the population.
  • When the oil was discovered the farmers who lived there were forced off their land by the Nigerian government and it was given to oil companies including Royal Dutch Shell. Farmers were given compensation based on the value of the land for crops, while the government earned the value of the land based on oil.
  • A lack of environmental legislation means the discovery of oil has been a disaster for the environment with thousands of oil spills (>7000 in 30 years) in the Niger Delta. This had severe consequences on the farming and fishing industry.
  • At the same time, although 2/3 of people are employed in fishing or agriculture, the government has neglected these industries for years leading to decreased productivity and income.


Insecurity in Syria is causing development to go backwards

‘War is development in reverse’ – Paul Collier

According to the Syrian Center for Policy Research (SCPR) the armed conflict in Syria is a ‘war on development’ and it has cited a range of evidence to support this claim. The war is ‘obliterating physical, financial, human and social capital’ resulting in a restructuring of the economy towards agriculture – a sector that is traditionally more dominant in less developed countries.

Infrastructure and services are being degraded, there is a rise in the informal sector and a weakening of human capital. Total economic loss as of June 2013 was estimated to be $103 billion. Around 3000 schools have been damaged or destroyed and only 50% of children are currently attending. The number of doctors per person has fallen from 1:700 to 1:4000 Syria’s HDI is now 20% lower than it was in 2011.


No security without development 

Nigeria’s lack of development is causing insecurity 

Even though Nigeria has discovered oil and could potentially became a rich and developed country, the government has failed to invest its resource wealth into development, instead keeping it for themselves and leaving the majority of the population in poverty. This has made it very difficult for the country to be secure and had even made it less secure than before as the following events have unfolded:

  • In response to the government’s failure to invest in these industries, failure to share oil wealth with the general population and failure to implement environmental laws, militant groups emerged such as MEND (the Movement for Emancipation of the Niger Delta) and demanded to be given their share of oil revenues and for the environmental degradation to be stopped. They have killed 4 oil workers, hijacked 12 ships and kidnapped 33 sailors working for oil companies since 2012.
  • At the same time competition for oil wealth among the impoverished citizens who reside in the Nile Delta has fuelled violence between many ethnic groups and various military factions have developed to try to seize control. Nearly the entire region has been militarized as a result of the discovery of oil in a poorly developed country.
  • The government has tried to repress the conflict using further military force but this has only served to make things worse. In all thousands of civilians including children have been beaten, raped and killed and hundreds of thousands have been displaced from their homes.

Afghanistan’s lack of development is making it difficult to attain security  

‘In the absence of the growth of the licit economy, the illicit economy will take over– Ashita Mittal


Afghanistan has experienced a continuous state of conflict since the 1970s, which has made it very difficult for the country to develop. However, until it becomes more developed it will be very difficult to attain peace and security.

This can be illustrated by the opium economy, which reached a record high with 200k hectares planted in 2013, despite the fact that UK troops have been sent to Helmand specifically to try and reduce opium production. Afghanistan produces more than 90% of the world’s opium (the main ingredient in heroin), a trade which is inextricably linked to both development and security.

Afghanistan is one of the poorest countries in the world. 42% live below the national poverty line and 20% are only just above. There are high levels of illiteracy in rural areas and most are completely dependent on agriculture for their livelihood. Climatic conditions are also difficult with sparse precipitation in summer and months of winter snow making crop yields unreliable. Only 40% of the land is irrigated and often ineffectively particularly in the poorest areas.

Over 75% of Afghan people live in rural areas where agriculture is primary activity. Opium poppy cultivation started in the 1970s as gross income per hectare was 12 – 30 times higher than the country’s staple, wheat. Poppies are also easier to grow and easier to sell.

Until the country develops enough to offer alternative sources of income for these people, it looks like the illegal opium economy will only continue to grow.

However, this issue can also be looked at in another way. Until Afghanistan has a secure and well policed society where laws the ban poppy farming are actually enforced, poppy farmers have little motivation to develop other sources of income, this hindering the development of the country as a whole. Despite being illegal, many officials have their own share in the opium economy, and in some areas, even if they don’t want to grow poppies, farmers are persuaded or scared into doing so by the Taliban to help fund their insurgencies.

Alternative views 

‘War is not development in reverse’ Human Security Report 2012

Studies show that several development indicators appear to improve during periods of conflict, i.e. that development can still happen despite a lack of security. According to the HSR of 2012, Paul Collier’s description, whilst true in some cases, is not an accurate description of the impact of war, including on health and education. In fact, many conflict-affected countries experience improving development indicators even in the worst affected countries.

It is true that in some cases there is a slow-down of the rate of improvement but not an overall decline. Few conflicts today are destructive or deadly enough to reverse national trends. However, in other cases, even the rate of improvement increases. An example is Afghanistan, which experienced a dramatic increase in school enrolments after the overthrow of the Taliban, despite ongoing insurgency.

In a study by the UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS) only 11% of countries experienced a reversal in educational trends during conflict, while 40% has higher levels after the conflict compared to before.

‘War can be a catalyst for positive social and political change’ SOAS, University of London

Some studies even suggest that a lack of security can have a positive impact on development long-term.

Despite the negative consequences of conflict, historical evidence suggests that it has actually had a positive role in development. For example, fighting alongside each other can cause be a unifying experience that creates common identities; e.g. the world wars were key in developing national identities for many British Colonies. Allowing conflicts to run their course, sort out grievances and exhaust readiness to fight can be far more successful in achieving long term piece than enforcing peace agreements in which nobody really agrees. As a catalyst for positive change the American Civil war can be used as an example for abolishing slavery, arguably the beginning of racial equality in the US.



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