Image Credits- Vecteezy
In the tapestry of human hardship, poverty emerges as a relentless plea for life's essentials, a cry centuries old still echoing the much pain faced daily by those born into its clutches. Still we have evolved to expect this plea and ignore it; on the streets, in our neighborhoods and especially coming from third world countries. Ignoring the plight of poor nations today goes beyond individual suffering; it casts a dark cloud over a global conscience that can no longer afford indifference.
While education is undoubtedly a crucial component in breaking the cycle of poverty, it is not a panacea. Globally recognized research, including studies from the World Bank, UNICEF, and the International Labour Organization, underscore that the roots of poverty are multi-faceted. It’s not just about access to education; it’s about access to healthcare, clean water, and economic opportunities. Like viruses which weaken the immune system and cause the infected to die of opportunistic infections, poverty is often a web of intertwined challenges.
On 17th October 2023, Luis Felipe López-Calva, the World Bank Global Director for Poverty and Equity wrote “Millions more people [still] live without adequate access to health, education, housing, water, or electricity – they are deprived not only of essential needs, but also of opportunity, hope, and basic dignity… we are way off target."
It goes without saying today that poverty cuts across race, gender, and upbringing. The web of poverty is not limited to individuals; it spreads its strands into communities and impedes the progress of others. A 2018 research conducted by the University of Manchester and funded by the European Research Council, revealed the ripple effect of poverty. It showed how it undermines societal stability and amplifies disparities within communities. All seven researchers found that “the longer a child lived in poorer circumstances, the higher their subsequent risks for self-harm and violent criminality, and vice versa for time spent living in affluent [or more comfortable] conditions.”
Childhood poverty would be described as lacking basics like shelter, education, food, and healthcare, causing lasting setbacks. Limited opportunities in any of these areas can stifle future prospects. A poverty-stricken society is less likely to prosper as a whole, further trapping its members in a vicious cycle of deprivation.
To truly understand what causes poverty, one must delve into the complex factors that contribute to it. One major cause of poverty as witnessed over time, is economic inequality. At its core, this instability is marked by unpredictable fluctuations in a nation’s economy, including recessions, currency devaluations, inflation, and financial crises. These events disrupt employment opportunities, lead to reduced income for workers, and erode the purchasing power of families.
Annually, the Forbes list of the wealthiest 1% undergoes transformations, replacing familiar names with new faces. This dynamic shift underscores the reality that not all affluent individuals maintain their financial stature over time. Formerly secure individuals may unexpectedly find themselves jobless, grappling to meet basic needs, and facing the imminent risk of descending into poverty.
In his incredible book "Capital in the Twenty-First Century," French economist Thomas Piketty discussed the persistent challenges of economic inequality. He examined historical economic data, revealing that the gap between the rich and the rest of society has been growing over time. Piketty's central idea was that if a nation's economic inequality was addressed, it could encourage foreign investments.
Otherwise, for most countries, this would result in slow economic growth, not only diminishing the country's global competitiveness but also restrict the creation of new jobs. High poverty levels will trigger migration like we see happening across South America, impacting immigration policies of well-to-do neighboring countries and social systems globally. Nations grappling with poverty often require increased international aid and development efforts, shaping the agendas of global organizations and impacting donor countries.
To lack, have little or earn nothing; these are simple and yet accurate definitions of what it means to be poor. A feeling most of us despise, a class we pray never to fall under, one topic we rarely discuss – what poverty feels like.
Luis Felipe López-Calva adds that “At current, nearly 600 million people—nearly 7 percent of the world’s population—will still be living on less than $2.15 a day in 2030. More broadly, over 3 billion people live on less than $6.85 per day which is typically the national poverty line of upper-middle-income countries… Yet poverty is not inevitable.”
To alleviate poverty globally, a multi-pronged approach is necessary. Investment in education, healthcare, and infrastructure is crucial. Additionally, policies aimed at reducing economic inequality and curbing corruption are essential. In 1976, Professor Muhammad Yunus, Head of the Rural Economics Program at the University of Chittagong in Bangladesh, launched an action research that would win him a Nobel prize. He discovered that providing small loans, often referred to as microcredit, have a transformative power on the poor, empowering individuals and communities to prosper.
He would also be famous for saying that “poverty is not created by poor people. It is created by the system we have built, the institutions we have designed, and the concepts we have formulated” - which leads us to why poor people remain poor.
According to the 2023 global Multidimensional Poverty Index (MPI), released by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and Oxford’s Poverty and Human Development Initiative (OPHI), there are currently 1.1 billion individuals, about 13.75% of the global population of 8 billion, living in severe multidimensional poverty across 110 countries. Sub-Saharan Africa is home to approximately half of this population with 534 million people, while South Asia is home to 389 million of them. Combined, these regions account for around five out of every six individuals living in poverty today.
The road to poverty alleviation is hindered by several challenges. One of the foremost obstacles is the global economic system in the post-colonial era. Former colonial powers still exploit and extract resources from once colonized nations. They exert economic and political influence through the interconnectedness of globalization further marginalizing economically disadvantaged nations in decision-making processes, hindering their ability to address poverty on their own terms.
Political instability and conflicts also cast a long shadow over the pursuit of poverty reduction. In regions marked by turmoil and unrest, development efforts are severely disrupted, and nations find themselves trapped in vicious cycles of violence and economic stagnation.
In Niger, for instance, a nation still rated by the United Nations as one of the planet’s least developed economies, over 42.9% of its citizens struggled to survive on less than $1.90 per day for years. By 2023, the country already grappled with the burdens of over 250,000 refugees and 313,000 internally displaced persons due to insurgency and armed violence, experienced a coup d’état on July 26th that would leave many of its citizens seeking refuge elsewhere. In such an economically unstable environment, it becomes no longer about getting, but about survival.
If we neglect the needs of impoverished nations, the future remains bleak. These countries, without international aid, risk remaining trapped in a never-ending cycle of poverty. The emergence of China's debt diplomacy adds another layer of complexity, as nations burdened by debt to China may find themselves entangled in a web of economic dependence, potentially exacerbating their struggles to break free from the chains of poverty. The consequences of such neglect and unequal power dynamics on the global stage underscore the urgency of addressing not only immediate economic challenges but also restructuring international relations to ensure more equitable and sustainable development for all.
The consequences will extend beyond borders, fostering instability, conflicts, and large-scale migration when things get worse. Without intervention, the potential for economic growth and human development in these regions will be squandered.
Poverty is not just a matter of individual deprivation but a complex web of intertwined challenges. Education alone is insufficient to break the cycle, and the consequences of poverty ripple through communities and hinder the progress of others. To alleviate poverty globally, a comprehensive and well thought out approach is needed to address its root causes one step at a time - addressing economic inequality, corruption, and access to essential services. These efforts, though hindered by systemic challenges, will have far-reaching repercussions, if nothing is done about it. It is therefore important that the international community recognizes the importance of extending a helping hand to ensure a brighter future for everyone.
By: Melekwe Anthony
Melekwe Anthony has penned over 58 works of fiction and non-fiction published across three continents. His works have been featured in Adelaide Literary Magazine, Dead Talk Live USA, Multiplicity Magazine and Sahara Reporters among others. Anthony currently hosts "The Writers Podcast", a well acclaimed literary series now available on Spotify and Amazon Music.