The term ‘poverty’ has almost become synonymous in association with the greater population of the third world, that is, countries that are currently considered either developing or under-developed, especially in Africa, Latin America, Asia and Oceania in respect to their economies (Marie, 2002). The term ‘World poverty’ would therefore essentially simply refer to poverty around the world.
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Having comprehended this basic concept, the question begs: so what is poverty? One does not know if it is indeed possible to exhaustively satisfy the meaning and come up with one definition of the term poverty. However, in relation to the subject on discussion one can draw certain key pointers towards figuring out the meaning of poverty (Galbraith, 1998).
According to the Merriam-Webster online dictionary, poverty is defined as, “The state of one who lacks a usual or socially acceptable amount of money or material possession” (Marie, 2002). Thus, poverty as spelled out in the above definition may cover a range from extreme want of necessities to absence of material comforts.
Another word that will inevitably crop up while discussing poverty is the term destitution which again according to the Merriam-Webster Online dictionary implies extreme poverty that threatens life itself through starvation or exposure (Galbraith, 1998).
It will therefore make more sense for us to base our findings on this last definition which directly delves into the main issues of global poverty. These are internationally accepted to include lack of adequate food, shelter, water and sanitation (Marie, 2002).
Throughout the world scene, there is currently a food crisis being experienced as a consequent result to rise in food prices (Ibid, 2002). The issue is not that there is not enough food to feed themselves and their families. Yet the price of food is still expected to rise further following the inability of world leaders in taking concrete actions to reverse the trend.
It has been argued that the result of using grain to generate bio-fuel (to counter the effects of fossil fuels linked to global warming and environmental degradation) has deprived especially the poor of their main food source (Galbraith, 1998).
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This is because of competition between oil industry market players and consumers whose staple food mainly comprises these so called “fuel crops”. A probable solution would be more investment being made in the agricultural sector, where assistance has declined by more than half over the past two decades. Boosting agricultural production which is the main livelihood of the world’s poor would essentially ensure food security (Ibid, 1998).
The rise of shanty towns and mushrooming of slums is easily directed to lack of sufficient housing, that is, affordable to the urban poor. In these dingy environments sanitation and shelter are the biggest problems (Marie, 2002). Former Untied Nations Secretary General, Kofi Annan, is quoted as saying, “The poor are seldom poor by choice…but they must be given a fair chance to compete” (Galbraith, 1998).
This means that poverty can be fought economically by creating access to formal and informal education (Marie, 2002). It is lack of education that leads to unemployment and low income jobs which forces people to live from hand to mouth. Otherwise, the lack of enough job opportunities and economic development in the third world means that even the educated skills and knowledge cannot be utilized to contribute towards national development (Ibid, 2002).
Some facts and figures are cited below to show the magnitude of world poverty on the global population. It is estimated according to the 2007 Human Development Report from the United Nations Development Program that, “There are still around 1 billion people living at the margins of survival on less than USD1 a day, with 2.6 billion – 40 percent of the world’s population – living on less than USD2 a day” (Galbraith, 1998).
It is however most important to note that the World Bank has been almost arbitrarily criticized – this according to an article by Anup Shah on www.globalissues.org – for coming up with a defination of poverty line to mean one dollar per day while the poverty threshold for a family of four in the United States has been estimated at around eleven dollars per day (Marie, 2002).
This therefore, means that a large chunk of humanity is left out. Moreover, according to the United Nations International Children’s Education Fund (UNICEF), 26,500 – 30,000 children die each day due to poverty (Galbraith, 1998).
It is however worth noting that poverty is not only limited to developing and under-developed nations. Industrialized economies are seeing an increase in the levels of poverty as fewer people emerge to be profiting from the current trend of globalization (Marie, 2002).
Hurricane Katrina which wretched the state of New Orleans and much of the Gulf coast region of the US on 29 August, 2005 revealed to the world the silent sufferings of hundreds of thousands if not millions of poverty-stricken American citizens (Galbraith, 1998). There are still living today in the world’s superpower economy, people without electricity, proper housing and water.
Mr. Andrew Simms, Policy Director of the New Economics Foundation in an article to The Guardian, dated August 6, 2003, said, “In the UK the bottom 50% of the population now owns only 1% of the wealth: in 1976 they owned 12%. Our economic system’s incentive structure, instead of trickle-down, is causing a “flood-up” of resources from the poor to the rich…” (Marie, 2002).
Statistics, according to Anup Shah of the globalissues.org on poverty around the world, reveals that it is reported that the UK is the worst place in Europe to grow up while poor (Galbraith, 1998).
This is despite Britain being one of the most affluent members of the European Union. Similarly, the writer goes on to note that it would be surprising for most people realizing that USA, the wealthiest nation on earth, has the widest gap between rich and poor of any industrialized nation (Marie, 2002).
Most people especially in continental Africa associate the West with having contributed to almost a majority of the woes they face. It is widely believed that the colonization of Africa by mostly European powers effectively profited the colonial masters (Galbraith, 1998).
Raw materials were sourced from the continent and shipped off abroad to feed the insatiable appetite of western industries. Not only did the west profit from gold, diamonds, copper and other raw materials but they exploited human resource by perpetuating the slave trade (Ibid, 1998).
Even today, the raw materials come from the third world which have huge natural reserves, and are exported for processing and manufacturing abroad then sold back to the third world at a profit to the west. This only serves to perpetuate the poverty circle (Marie, 2002).
Boxing legend Muhammad Ali on eradicating poverty quotes, “Wars against nations are fought to change maps; wars against poverty are fought to map change” (Galbraith, 1998).
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There needs to be put in place sustainable solutions towards world-wide poverty eradication. These include creating awareness towards the issue. Thankfully, this has resulted in the formation of the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty which has been observed annually since 1993.
The forum should be used to make world leaders commit themselves to fulfill their pledge of reducing by half by the year 2015 the number of people living in extreme poverty which was agreed upon at the Millennium Summit.
Galbraith, J.K. (1998). The Position of Poverty. In Jacobus, L.A. editor. A World of Idea. Boston/New York: Bedford/St. Martins’. pp240.
Marie, V. Lane. (2002). World Poverty: A Bibliography with Indexes. Social Science.