What is poverty?
Poverty is the state of being extremely poor.
The United Nations defines poverty as living on an income of less than US $2 per day. According to this definition, nearly half of the world’s population lives in poverty, including one billion children.
Out of those in poverty, 800 million people live on less than US $1.25 a day. This means they live in extreme poverty.
People in extreme poverty usually lack access to proper nutrition, clean drinking water, and health services.
Poverty is the first United Nations Sustainable Development Goal.
This goal aims to eradicate extreme poverty and ensure access to economic resources. The United Nations is calling for resources around the world to mobilize and form partnerships between developing and developed countries.
Between 2020 and 2022, four years of progress against poverty was erased due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2020, the pandemic pushed 8 million workers into poverty, causing the working poverty rate to rise for the first time in two decades.
Before the pandemic, it was projected that only 581 million people would still be in extreme poverty in 2022. Instead, 657 million people are in extreme poverty in 2022. This is currently due to rising inflation as a result of the war in Ukraine.
The pandemic also increased disaster-related deaths by sixfold.
Why is there so much poverty?
Poverty is usually caused by unemployment, social exclusion, and high vulnerability of populations to disasters, diseases, and other situations that prevent workers from being productive.
It can also be caused by a lack of resources, such as food, water, shelter, and sanitation.
However, it can also be caused through societal constructs, such as legislative inequities and discrimination, poor governance, global or civil conflict, worker exploitation, and domestic violence.
This is the most common in countries defined as fragile states.
Fragile states are areas where the social contract between state and society is broken. This may be because people view their government as lacking accountability and being unresponsive to their needs. Their public institutions are unable to provide services such as education, health, and water.
Because their public institutions are ineffective, this means that these states lack resilience. This makes it more difficult to recover from natural or human-made disasters, economic crises, and social unrest.
Why is it important?
The United Nations states that, “as human beings, our well-being is linked to each other.” Severe wealth inequality hinders economic growth, social cohesion, and increases political tensions.
In addition, poverty directly affects the lives of families and children across the world. Poverty harms the development of children’s minds and bodies. This makes them more likely to develop chronic illnesses, such as asthma, and shortened life expectancies.
Poverty also increases achievement gaps. Children raised in poverty are less likely to develop strong reading abilities, self-monitoring skills, and attend school.
Families living in poverty also report that their parents experience higher stress, aggravation, and depression. Children have fewer books or access to schooling. They also have less access to outings, activities, and programs that enrich learning.
How can you help?
Active engagement in policymaking can help address poverty. It ensures that rights are promoted, intergenerational knowledge is shared, and innovation and critical thinking are promoted.
Governments can generate productive employment and job opportunities for those living in poverty. The private sector can also determine whether its growth contributes to poverty reduction by promoting economic opportunities for the poor.
Increases in technology also contribute to reducing poverty by creating more access to safe drinking water, reducing water-borne diseases, and improving hygiene to reduce health risks.
Youth involvement is also important. ⅔ of the population in low-income nations are under 25 years old. Youth efforts should be built on the tenet that young people are initiators, participators, and decision-makers.
Including youth perspectives in decision-making allows them to be recognized as a resource for change. The role of higher education institutions reaching young people is important.
Proposed Solutions to Poverty
These solutions include:
1. Educating children
From a global perspective, teaching children reading, writing, and arithmetic can open opportunities for children. Some experts say that the cycle of poverty cannot be broken unless children receive education.
Before the pandemic, 617 million children lacked basic literacy and math skills.
A lack of education leads to adults being forced into few employment options with low pay. These jobs may not be secure, forcing them to migrate or leave children at home alone while they seek work opportunities. Many jobs also contain harsh physical labor that increase future health risks.
Having a higher education allows adults to find a better job for higher pay. It allows individuals to give back to their community and provide for their children. This is how individuals can break out of the cycle of poverty.
2. Providing clean drinking water
One in three people globally can’t access safe drinking water.
Families without access to close, safe drinking water experience water-borne diseases. This may include diarrhea, cholera, dysentary, hepatitis A, typhoid, and polio. These can kill children and adults.
Water-borne diseases are so prevalent because 1.8 billion people drink water contaminated with feces.
Many children also have to engage in long, dangerous walks to fetch small amounts of water. This may include trips that take several days. While traveling, children are vulnerable to animal attacks as well as physical assaults.
Having water closer to home allows children to have more time in school. Without close, clean water, children end up being away from school to retrieve water or due to illness.
3. Ensuring basic health care
100 million people are pushed into poverty each year due to out-of-pocket spending on health.
Experts have agreed that affordable services should be available to families who need them in order to reduce poverty. This includes health prevention, treatment, and rehabilitation.
Families without access to healthcare may have children who develop illnesses. Some illnesses require antibiotics or fluids to survive. Without access to a hospital, families are forced to use their savings for an out-of-pocket clinic closer to home. Sometimes these funds were set aside for other costs, like planting crops that year. Because they spent money to aid a sick child, they fall deeper into poverty.
With free health care if feasible or a trained community health care worker, families may have easier opportunities for diagnosis and transportation to the hospital.
4. Empowering girls and women
It has been shown that societies with greater gender equality have faster economic growth. Empowered women are also more likely to send their daughters to school.
Unfortunately, ⅔ of adults without basic literacy skills are female. In addition, less than fifty percent of working-age women are in the labor market. In some parts of Africa and Asia, women spent over sevent times as much time as men doing unpaid domestic work.
This is because in various countries, women are limited in their options. When women don’t receive an education or training for skilled tasks, they are usually forced into unpaid labor or low-paid labor. In some cultures, girls are forced into child marriage, which increases their chances of an unwanted pregnancy.
Because of this, women become dependent on their husbands or wage-earning men to support their family income. If something happens to their husband, such as illness, death, disability, unemployment, or she becomes a victim of domestic violence, this means that the woman cannot support her family.
This typically leads to children working in unskilled jobs to help support their family, resulting in them leaving school. This perpetuates the cycle of poverty since now the children haven’t received an education.
Some ideas to empower women have been to provide microfinance loans and trainings to teach women how to save money and become financially independent.
It has also been recommended to build safe, private latrines for girls at schools to prevent against period stigma. This is a large reason why girls drop out of school.
5. Improving childhood nutrition
Malnutrition in babies in young children will affect them for the rest of their lives. The developmental, economic, social, and medical impacts are lasting.
Fortunately, combatting malnutrition has been identified by the World Health Organization as one of the most cost-effective ways to reduce poverty.
However, if malnutrition isn’t combatted, malnourished children can be stunted for their whole lives. In 2020, 149 million children under five were stunted.
In some countries, most people eat only one meal a day due to environmental or societal factors. If women become pregnant in this state, their fetuses are deprived of key nutrients while in the womb.
This leads to babies that are born underweight and women providing less breastmilk for children. Those children will be physically and cognitively stunted, meaning that they will be frequently ill and struggle to understand topics in school.
Being unable to understand topics in school will affect their education and economic development. This impacts a child’s community and economy.
To reduce malnourishment, organizations work to provide emergency food. The most popular program for food distribution is the World Food Programme.
6. Supporting environmental problems
The World Health Organization predicts that climate change is supposed to cause 250,000 extra deaths per year between 2030 and 2050. This is due to increased malnutrition, malaria, diarrhea, and heat stress.
In addition, 75% of poor communities in rural areas rely on natural resources such as forests, lakes, and oceans for their livelihoods. However, these resources are being reduced due to extreme weather.
This impacts people in different ways. For example, 112 million people still use wood as their primary sense of fuel. They use it to cook, heat water, and sell at the market. However, this contributes to deforestation and soil degradation, which in turn reduces crop yields and changes rainfall patterns.
Eventually, the fuel becomes less available, and incomes drop. This means that children grow up malnourished and have to walk long distances for fuel and water. This means they have less time for school, and so the cycle of poverty continues.
There are different programs set up to combat similar problems. Some solutions are to provide wood-preserving cooking stoves powered with vegetable waste, help restore ecosystems through tree-reforestation programs, and teach farmers about more sustainable agricultural practices.
7. Reaching children in conflict
Currently, 82 million people are displaced due to conflict, persecution, and human rights violations, according to the UNHCR.
The number of people affected by conflict has doubled since 2007. Unfortunately, repeated cycles of violence keep families in poverty. This is because forced migration requires families to abandon shelter, security, and livelihood.
Some families, after fleeing an attack, may only find jobs that pay the rent. This doesn’t leave money for food or other necessities. This sometimes requires children to work in dangerous conditions, which puts them at risk of physical and sexual assault, theft, and kidnapping.
This also reduces a child’s chance to attend school. Sometimes refugee school systems are overloaded, meaning that children cannot attend school. Sometimes they are working, so they cannot attend school.
Some solutions are to empower children who have been raised as refugees and provide families with basic necessities so their income can be better utilized.