One of the “huge mistakes” defended “as great truths” in Paraguay is that businesspeople “pay a lot” to the revenue service while in fact “direct taxation, which is the most unfair, is the largest” and “poor people end up paying more than the rich”, according to a report by economist José Carlos Rodríguez. The report was presented this month at the launching of the programme “Impuestos justos para inversión social” [Fair taxes for social investment] promoted by the
Campaña por la Expresión Ciudadana-Decidamos (national focal point of Social Watch) and Centro de Documentación y Estudios.
There are many perspectives as well as people in the world who have talked and written about poverty, failing to reach an agreement about what they are exactly referring to. In spite of having a common basis, there are multiple definitions and concepts on “poverty”.
Poverty is not only not having a job, or fearing for the future or living one day at a time. Poverty is also powerlessness, lack of representation and freedom. The main goal of development policies should be to free people from poverty, although this is not only about money or markets, or education and health – notwithstanding the fact that they are indeed very important – but about the access of people to resources and the real possibility of improving their lives.
Trillions of people suffer from hunger, diseases and desperation, living in a state of poverty that for a privileged minority seems to be an inevitable and natural component of the geopolitical scenery. While heads of state of the developed world reiterate their commitment to “eradicate poverty”, not a hint of will is yet evidenced on their part to attack its systemic causes, but rather the will of corporative and political elites to maintain the status quo.
Multilateral institutions, overwhelmingly devoted to “development” policies, adhere to neoliberal growth strategies aimed at privatisations, capital accumulation and investments. These institutions – the World Bank included – persistently ignore the fact that such growth does not necessarily relieve poverty although, in turn, it may increase it. Many civil society organizations promote small-scale social development programmes in impoverished countries, but provided economic and social policies continue to favour an unequal distribution of wealth, poverty will continue to be a reality for most people throughout the world.
Due to the highly controversial nature of poverty studies, some of the problems arising when setting international measures are the same as those that are faced when countries establish national poverty lines. Although it might be useful to resort to income based measures, these on their own are insufficient, as concepts of poverty are becoming more complex and multidimensional. There is now a wide consensus regarding the fact that access to health and education is just as important as income and that in the future, the consensus will probably include empowerment and participation in citizen life.
However, explicit or not, making international comparisons of deprivation among countries requires the setting of various criteria as a starting point. In particular, it requires deciding whether it is necessary and possible to establish a common poverty line against which all countries can be compared, and determining its characteristics.
The World Bank (WB) has advocated making these comparisons according to consumption or income, and in particular, has established a threshold of one dollar per day per person, based on 1985 purchasing power parity. One of the criticisms of the WB poverty line is that setting an international basic consumption line would be a very difficult task, especially considering the diversity among the different parts of the world or even within regions in meeting the basic caloric and nutritional needs. (1)
Amartya Sen (2), one of the most important intellectuals in terms of conceptualisation, operability and design of methods to measure poverty and human development, analysed that progress cannot be measured by the usual gross domestic product per capita alone. In turn, it is necessary to advance towards a broader and more realistic vision of progress and poverty. Rather than measuring poverty by income level, Sen recommends calculating how much an individual can achieve with that income, taking into account that such achievements will vary from one individual to another and from one place to another.
According to Sen, history in recent decades has evidenced that without social development there is no sustained growth. His contributions were utterly useful in the creation of the United Nations Human Development Index.
The efforts made by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) - crystallised in the Human Development Index - also point to broadening the dimensions used to evaluate the performance of the different countries.
More recently, non-material or symbolic dimensions have also been included into the concept of poverty, such as the increasingly necessary management of several codes of modernity, being among them: analytical disposition, information processing capacity, communication and management abilities in order to be able to fully participate in the globalized world and becoming adapted to the new forms of labour and production. And, if poverty is defined in terms of lack of well-being or lack of resources to choose a good quality of life, then it is necessary to draw attention to variables such as leisure time availability, citizen security, protection against public and domestic violence, protection in cases of catastrophic situations, etc. (3)
Perceptions of poverty
According to Vandana Shiva (4), poverty perceived as such from a cultural perspective, needs not to be real material poverty: sustenance economies which satisfy basic needs through self-provisioning are not poor in the sense of being deprived. However, the ideology of development declares them so because they do not overwhelmingly participate in the market economy, and do not consume commodities produced for and distributed through the market even though they might be satisfying those needs through self-provisioning mechanisms..
Two economic myths facilitate a separation between two intimately linked processes: the growth of affluence and the growth of poverty. Firstly, growth is only regarded as growth of capital. What goes unperceived is the destruction of nature and people's sustenance economy that is created by this growth. The two simultaneously created growth 'externalities' - environmental destruction and poverty creation - are then casually linked, not to growth processes, but to each other. It is stated that poverty causes environmental destruction. The disease is then offered as a cure: growth will solve the problems of poverty and environmental crisis it has given rise to in the first place.
The second myth that separates affluence from poverty is the assumption that if you produce what you consume, you do not produce. This is the basis on which production boundaries are drawn for national accounting bodies that measure economic growth.
Both myths contribute to the mystification of growth and consumerism, but they also hide the real processes that create poverty. People do not die for the lack of incomes. They die for the lack of access to resources.
The Social Watch Report 2005 presents two new indexes to measure social development, and concludes that the targets set for 2015 as part of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) will not be met. The new study shows that the international community has largely failed to live up to the commitments it adopted five years ago to eradicate poverty and promote development, a fact that has been highlighted with increasing urgency by civil society. September 2005.
This study provides an overview of a broad range of existing measures that go beyond gross domestic product (GDP) to offer a more complete and accurate picture of how a society and its economy are faring. (PDF). June 2010.
A new advance in poverty mapping was put forth by the Earth Institute in the effort to increase awareness and promote usage of geographic information system (GIS) based applications in development strategies. The poverty atlas provides a visual representation based on data such as hunger, child mortality and income. Poverty mapping is hoped to be useful in designing, implementing, and evaluating programs that tackle poverty related issues. September 2006.
Fighting poverty requires, among other things, tools for measuring the phenomenon in all its complexity. Poverty cannot be defined by having an income of one or two dollars a day, nor is there any advantage in distinguishing the very poor from the "almost" very poor, says the annual report by Social Watch, a global coalition of around 400 citizens' groups and non-governmental organisations from more than 50 countries. September 2005.
The world has the means to eradicate poverty. It can and must be done. Hunger, malnutrition and being condemned to a life in poverty are an affront to humanity and a denial of basic human rights. We therefore have an obligation to eradicate poverty and must take all possible actions to ensure that this objective is achieved. What is lacking is the political will to make it happen. The international community must not only re-affirm its commitment to eradicating poverty worldwide in the shortest time possible, but each government must also recognize its individual and collective obligation to put in place effective strategies for eradicating poverty. July 2005.
The percentage of the world’s population living in extreme poverty, the number one concern of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), may have decreased over the last decade (1995-2004). This decline however is closely linked to the development of one single country (China), whose population accounts for one-fifth of the total world population. Forecasts on the future evolution of poverty point to the absence of one single direction and the prevalence of regional differences. World Bank estimates predict that the goals set by the MDGs might be met in Europe, the Middle East, Central Asia and perhaps in Northern Africa, while in Latin America the slow poverty reduction pace makes the goal unattainable by 2015. In Sub-Saharan Africa the outlook is grim given that poverty affects 140 million people. August 2005.
Reports by commitment: almost five years have passed since the largest gathering ever of heads of State and government made this solemn promise to the peoples of the world: “we will spare no effort to free our fellow men, women and children from the abject and dehumanizing conditions of extreme poverty.” Almost ten years have passed since the leaders of the world solemnly committed themselves in Copenhagen “to the goal of eradicating poverty in the world, through decisive national actions and international cooperation, as an ethical, social, political and economic imperative of humankind.” August 2005.
Social Watch has demonstrated that an index of capabilities which does not include income can reflect country situations in a way that is consistent with the Human Development Index used by the UNDP and has the advantage of allowing for provincial and municipal monitoring. Yet indexes reflect averages and do not allow the poor to be counted. August 2005.
Due to the highly controversial nature of poverty studies, some of the problems arising when establishing international measures are the same as those that are faced when countries establish national poverty lines. The World Bank has advocated making these comparisons according to consumption or income, and in particular, has established a threshold of one dollar per day per person, based on 1985 purchasing power parity. Although it might be useful to resort to income based measures, these on their own are insufficient, as concepts of poverty are becoming more complex and multidimensional. There is now a wide consensus regarding the fact that access to health and education is just as important as income and that in the future, the consensus will probably include empowerment and participation in citizen life. 2003.
Social Watch is an international network informed by national citizens' groups aiming at following up the fulfilment of the internationally agreed commitments on poverty eradication and equality. These national groups report, through the national Social Watch report, on the progress - or regression- towards these commitments and goals.
In 2006-08, Maharashtra saw 12, 493 farm suicides. That is 85 per cent higher than the 6,745 suicides it recorded during 1997-1999. And the worst three-year period for any State, any time. P Sainath reports. February 2010.
Political leaders, social scientists and lawyers are nowadays paying more attention to two, not necessarily related, issues: concrete measures to reduce poverty and practical steps to respect human rights enshrined in international and national legal systems. The innovative contribution of this book is to bring together these two questions. July 2008.
This book argues that a radical redistribution of power, opportunities, and assets is needed to break the cycle of inequality and poverty, and that this change can be achieved through a combination of active citizens and effective States. "The history of development success shows that the crucible of change is primarily national and local, but rich countries, societies, and corporations carry a huge respon sibility. The deeply inequitable forms of global governance must be overhauled so that global phenomena such as climate change, capital flows, migration, conflict, or trade and investment are managed in ways that reduce poverty, inequality, and suffering". March 2008.
From the human rights perspective, poverty constitutes a multiple violation of human beings' fundamental rights and above all a violation of the right to lead a decent life as is laid down in international human rights agreements. Social Watch published an occasional paper with the aim of exploring this relation and contributing to a greater understanding of it. This involves questioning the traditional approach that regards people in general and people living in poverty in particular merely as the "beneficiaries" or the "object" of policies and programmes. (PDF) October 2006.
The phenomenon of poverty is on the agenda of virtually all the social and political actors in the world today. We will approach it from a human rights perspective, whereby the fight to eradicate poverty becomes a political responsibility. It is on the policy agendas of governments, multilateral bodies and civil society organizations too.However,there is a wide range of focuses on this problem and alternative ways to analyse it, some with slight differences and some that are in complete contrast to each other. October 2006. pdf format.
This report reveals that the share of benefits from global economic growth reaching the world’s poorest people is actually shrinking, while they continue to bear an unfair share of the costs. New figures show that growth was less effective at passing on benefits to the poorest in the 1990’s than it was even in the 1980’s -the so-called ‘lost decade for development’- and an age of rising climate chaos will worsen their prospects. You may download the publication on line, in pdf format. January 23, 2006.
The Conceptual Framework presents a clear vision of a human rights approach to poverty reduction,a vision that explicitly encompasses accountability and empowering people as actors for their own development. January 2004, Pdf format.
What is poverty? How is it measured? Who are the poor? Amartya Sen, Nobel Prizewinner for Economics, has devoted his life to such basic questions about development. Defining and measuring poverty and calculating the percentage of poor people in a country or a region is not just a matter of numbers and averages. In 1998, the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences awarded Amartya Sen the Nobel Prize for Economics "for having restored an ethical dimension to the discussion of vital economic problems." Sen had delved beyond mathematical theory, approaching economics with an innovative social vision that was more real and more human. Years of hard work had helped him bring to light the many facets of poverty. 5 December 2001.
There are many views and many people who talk and write about poverty around the globe, without reaching an agreement as to what they are actually saying. Despite having a common basis, there are a variety of definitions and conceptions about «poverty». 1997.
Long-term development programmes were originally the domain of the World Bank (WB) alone. However, when short-term lending became more and more unnecessary, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) sought for a new mission. In co-operation with the WB, the IMF established programmes aimed at providing medium- and long-term support for developing countries. By providing structural adjustment, the IMF began operating in a terrain which is supposedly the domain of the WB.
Why international financial institutions are so destructive for those countries that pretend to aid? The IFIs’ un-stated aim is to ensure that “developing” countries’ resources keep flowing to the economically rich “developed” nations, which in the process become even richer –while the “developing” become poorer. Unfortunately, IFIs have until now been highly successful both in achieving this aim and in maintaining the illusion of a Western future for the South. August 2005.
The World Bank uses a controversial “one-size-fits-all” scorecard - the Country Policy and Institutional Assessment (CPIA) to rate each borrowing government. The CPIA ratings are prepared annually and consist of 20 criteria (grouped in four clusters) related to a government’s policy and institutional performance. The CPIA rating system may represent a new and more powerful kind of conditionality that interferes in a country’s domestic affairs. Rather than reward governments for promises to adopt loan conditions, CPIA helps make it possible to reward those that have already conformed to donor and creditor policy preferences. Many poor and/or heavily indebted governments see compliance with these policy preferences as essential to maintaining their lifeline to external aid and debt relief. 2004.
The report of the Independent Expert on human rights and extreme poverty, Ms Magdalena Sepulveda Carmona, looks at the consequences of the global financial crisis on the rights of people living in extreme poverty, and underlines that the crisis provides an opportunity to move beyond the re-structuring of the global financial and monetary systems. October 2009.
The Draft Guiding Principles on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights were developed over a five year period to formulate rules of action to put an end to extreme poverty and realize human rights for all, including the poorest of the poor. For the first time in its history, the United Nations proposed an international law document which considers the fight against extreme poverty as an obligation for all States. Consultations on the draft were launched for 2007 by the Human Rights Council. July 2007.
UNFPA supports countries in using population data for policies and programmes to reduce poverty and to ensure that every pregnancy is wanted, every birth is safe, every young person is free of HIV/AIDS, and every girl and woman is treated with dignity and respect.
World leaders have pledged to achieve the Millennium Development Goals, including the overarching goal of cutting poverty in half by 2015. UNDP’s network links and coordinates global and national efforts to reach these Goals. See Human Development Report 2005.
Recent efforts to strategically link PRSPs to MDGs are beginning to dramatically alter international assessments of poverty reduction strategies and pro-poor economic policies. By calling for big increases in external and domestic resources to meet the MDGs, the U.N. Millennium Project has contributed to this re-assessment. It has helped stimulate a new global debate particularly on the need for more expansionary public- investment led economic policies (www.unmillenniumproject.org). Meanwhile, a broad range of UNDP regional initiatives in Asia-Pacific and the Arab States and country studies in the Caucasus/Central Asia and Africa are confirming the need for more pro-growth and pro-poor economic policies. July 2005. (pdf format).
Is the principal organ to coordinate the economic, social, and related work of the 14 UN specialized agencies, 10 functional commissions and five regional commissions. The Council also receives reports from 11 UN funds and programmes. The Council serves as the central forum for discussing international economic and social issues, and for formulating policy recommendations addressed to Member States and the United Nations system. It is responsible for promoting higher standards of living, full employment, and economic and social progress; identifying solutions to international economic, social and health problems; facilitating international cultural and educational cooperation; and encouraging universal respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms.
As if to demonstrate that poverty is now a residual issue in the world, the poor are being slowly eliminated from the imagery of the busy global media. The poor have become peripheral figures, with scarcely walk-on parts in the great drama of liberalisation. All that is known is that those living below the fanciful economic latitudes designated by "the poverty line" are being reduced. Poverty is clearly a mop-up operation, and will eventually be abolished by the rising tide which, as everyone knows, lifts all boats. This is an automatic consequence of economic growth. If the poor scarcely appear in the media, is this because their destiny is to become, if not rich, at least no-longer-poor? April 10.
In a recent essay on globalization and social justice, Amartya Sen, Nobel Prize laureate in economics, notes that much of the debate internationally has focused on whether inequalities are growing between the richer and poorer countries. He believes that they are and that those gaps must be addressed. But he also argues that in many poor countries local factors may have an even greater impact on poverty levels. July 2006.
This article by Vandana Shiva argues against the concepts expressed by Jeffrey Sachs in his essay “The End of Poverty”. Shiva believes it is not possible to separate the processes that create wealth from those that create poverty. June 2005.
There is no doubt that there are many traditions in Africa that hamper women's ability to lead economically prosperous lives, but to point to "Tradition" as the root cause of African women's poverty obscures reality more than it clarifies it. First of all, there is no single "Tradition" which exists all over Africa. Secondly, what is considered "traditional" in African communities is often of relatively recent vintage and was colonially-generated. January 2007.
This report adds a landmark to the discourse on the link between human rights standards and government budgets. It elaborates on how budgets and budget policy making processes can be monitored for compliance with human rights standards, in particular with the Convention of the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW). Gender responsive budgeting requires a participatory and transparent process, an equitable base and a non-discriminatory rationale. It also requires that women are not regarded as a vulnerable group who are the beneficiaries of government assistance but rather as rights holders, whose governments are under obligation to empower and protect. May 2006, pdf format.
"Poverty, gender and human trafficking in Sub-Saharan Africa" is the ﬁrst publication of the UNESCO Poverty series. This series intends to provide food for thought in understanding poverty as a human rights issue and in proposing paths for action through scientiﬁc research on contemporary issues. It tries to unpack the interconnectedness between human trafﬁcking and poverty in Sub-Saharan Africa, based on a critical analysis of migration processes in relation to human rights abuse. August 2006.
Discrimination against women from or even before birth guarantees them a marginal role in Indian society, and ensures that they are poorer, less educated, and facing more unemployment and health risks than men. The cumulative effects of these inequalities worsen deprivation but the opposite is also true and by addressing inequality a positive multiplier effect can reduce poverty. 2005 report.
Even though poverty measurement methodology does not allow gender to be reflected in official statistics or in poverty reduction strategies, poverty and gender are inextricably linked. Despite the frequent mention of gender as a cross-cutting theme in many strategies, in practice it is a topic which receives little attention in action plans and specific development projects. Poverty affects men, women, boys, and girls, but it is experienced differently by people of different ages, ethnicities, family roles and sex. Due to women’s biology, their social and cultural gender roles, and culturally constructed subordination, they face disadvantageous conditions which accumulate and intensify the already numerous effects of poverty. August 2005.
"The relationship between gender and poverty is a complex and controversial topic that is now being debated more than ever before. Although much policymaking has been informed by the idea of feminization of poverty, the precise nature of the nexus between gender and poverty needs to be better understood and operationalized in policymaking". May 1998. (pdf format).
The actual reconstruction process has mainly conformed to precisely the same old tendencies that have made Haiti so vulnerable to natural, economic and political disaster in recent decades. The great majority of Haitian people have been entirely excluded from all meaningful participation in the planning or execution of reconstruction work.
On balance, a review of the attitudes and operations of Western humanitarian organizations in Africa indicates that little has changed since the mid nineteenth century. It is doubtful that Western humanitarian work in Africa can have enduring positive impact unless Euro-Americans discard paternalistic racist attitude towards Africans. Unless humanitarianism is informed by a sense of respect of and identity with the rights and aspirations of Africans and conducted on the basis of reciprocal consultation and transparency, it will be simply a placebo. November 2007.
"NGOs create this wrong image of children in poor countries, saying that they are abandoned orphans and that they need to be rescued. Most of the children - including in Darfur - have at least one parent, have extended family, and are part of a community. They are not orphans, they are not abandoned and therefore they should not be rescued". The Ark of Zoe's scandal in Sudan raises profound questions about the role of the international aid community and about Western attitudes to Africa. November 2007.
"The year 2005 will go down as one in which so much was promised to Africa and in which so little was achieved. But the subterfuge helped clear any lingering scales on our eyes that foreign-do-gooders will help fix Africa". January 2006.
Much aid comes with strings attached – crippling loan repayments, exploitation of resources and vulnerability to unfriendly international markets. International aid is essentially a business. It may appear to provide a free lunch, but it demands triple payment for dinner. The first cost is repayment of the free lunch (the loan). Then there is the interest on the loan. The final payment is the requirement to open up natural resources for exploitation, or to open markets to international competition. October 2005.
Meeting the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) requires billions of dollars. The fix-all solution often mentioned is simply to increase aid flows. Demba Moussa Dembele critiques the foreign aid industry, explaining why aid is more of an enemy than a friend, how aid dependency has been augmented by IMF and World Bank conditions and what the hidden political and economic costs are for African countries. September 2005.
This report presents new donor-by-donor analysis of the proportion of aid that is genuinely available for poverty reduction. It also proposes radical changes to the international aid architecture to ensure that both donors and recipients are held accountable for using aid to combat poverty. June 2005. (pdf format).
In a world where graphic pictures of starving children are used by development agencies to raise funds from the public in the rich world, it is criticized that the phenomenon of ‘development pornography’ has contributed towards deeper prejudice. New ways must be found to reach the public opinion and explain the real reasons behind poverty in Africa with clearer explanations. April 2005.
The 2005 edition of the Group of eight (G8) Summit that took place in Gleneagles, Scotland 6-8 July gathered leaders of the eight most powerful countries - the United States, Canada, Britain, Germany, France, Italy, Japan and Russia. This year's meeting was marked by the decision made by host Britain to build the meeting on two basic pillars: poverty in Africa and climate change.
Western NGOs’ desire to help Africans has led them into unhealthy relationships with host countries, donor governments, and media, says Michael Holman. The result is that they share responsibility for Africa’s development disasters. June 2005.
Jason Hickel asks whether 'environmental determinism' – the theory that Africa's development has been hindered as a result of 'the environmental conditions that Africans inhabit' – accurately explains Africa's poverty. While he commends its attempt to stop blaming underdevelopment 'on the presumed genetic inferiority of black people', he finds the theory and motives behind environmental determinism to be seriously lacking. Hickel asserts that environmental determinism is both ahistorical and apolitical: 'Poverty is not a problem of nature, it is a problem of power.' February 2010.
The ideology that emanates from the international finance organizations maintains that the poor suffer from a "lack" of resources, that poverty is a scourge to be combated, and that the best method of doing so is to "help" the poor. On the other hand, the priests that live among the poor believe that it is more important to learn from them. February 2009.
Poverty reduction is now the major priority of development cooperation. However, there are political and economic reasons to see inequality as a more important and urgent problem. Unfortunately, statistics are failing and confusing. At the global level inequality seems to be decreasing. Excluding the world’s most populous growth countries, China and India, inequality in the rest of the world is increasing. World Public Finances is a concept that allows for thinking of distributional justice at the global level. Ideally, with global taxes and global public goods, it could take the place of development aid. But theoretical arguments are scarce and one has to rely on political decisions. February 2008 (pdf version).
Once again Latin America is confusing development with economic growth, and economic growth with increased investments and exports. These same ideas have come up again and again over the last 50 years, and although subjected to criticism to the point of losing credibility, they return again. To get beyond this confusion, it's necessary to review the various debates about development. August 28, 2007.
Seminar at the WSF, Caracas, 25th of January 2006: its objective was to reflect on the risks of the merging development and security agendas, and to propose alternatives to traditional development thinking. By Francine Mestrum.
2005 was supposed to be a year of action for Africa, with demands for "more and better aid, debt cancellation and more just trade policies". What happened? Charles Abugre from Christian Aid offers some insights into the demands of the last year and provides pointers on where African civil society should focus their energies in the related areas of aid, debt and trade. February 2006.
The Millennium Development Goals were generated nontransparently by the United Nations, itself simultaneously moving to embrace the Washington Consensus with its pro-corporate Global Compact, endorsement of Public-Private Partnership privatisation strategies, and growing collaboration with the World Bank. Social movements and civil society organizations around the world must now decide whether to go alongside the global-scale neoliberal institutions in promoting the MDGs or use their resources, energy and political commitment to move beyond these targets. Report on the Millennium Development Goals and the anti-poverty work: "Working seriously, bottom-up, with the existing anti-poverty, global justice movements, would constitute a much wiser use of resources, energy and political". By Patrick Bond, director of the Centre for Civil Society, University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban. August 2005, pdf format.
Across Africa there is growing frustration with this economic model promoted by alliances of international institutions, western leaders and compliant African governments. By Yao Graham, TWN Africa, December 2004.