MDGs and Poverty

Atanu Dey writes why the fundamental focus for achieving the UN’s Millenium Development Goals should be on rural poverty:

Poverty is manifested as an interrelated set of problems such as hunger, disease, child mortality, gender bias, and environmental degradation. All of the factors that the MDG seeks to address are causally related.

For instance, hunger is a consequence of poverty because even when the food supply is adequate, the poor suffer from hunger and malnutrition. Hunger and malnutrition is in part responsible for low productivity and low incomes. Low or even negative savings coupled with credit constraints do not allow investment in education. Lack of education leads to poor understanding of hygeine and health care, high birth rate and child mortality, and poor maternal health. Eliminating poverty therefore is a necessary condition for the eradication of the whole set of inter-related effects.

Poverty is the most common characteristic that defines the populations of developing countries. It can be broadly classified as income poverty and non-income poverty. Non-income poverty in terms of education, health-care, access to markets, etc., directly produce the income poverty that traps the average citizen of developing countries.

Thus, income poverty and non-income poverty are closely related. The problem appears almost intractable because the two kinds of poverty are mutually reinforcing. Any solution that does not address both kinds of poverty is unlikely to be successful in poverty alleviation. The question of how to raise huge populations out of this poverty trap is a formidable challenge that governments, multilateral organizations and policy makers face.

Another way of classifying poverty is to distinguish between urban and rural poverty. Urban poverty, to a certain degree, is the result of rural poverty. Often, lacking economic opportunities, rural populations are forced to migrate to urban areas. An excess rural migrant population which cannot be gainfully employed in the urban areas leads to urbanpoverty. Therefore, alleviating rural poverty is a precondition to solving a large part of the urban poverty.

On a related note, I was reading Tracy Kidder’s account of Dr Paul Farmer’s work in Haiti – “Mountains Beyond Mountains.” Farmer makes a similar point in the context of healthcare – one cannot only treat the diseases amongst poor people and not worry about what causes them.

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Rajesh Jain

An Entrepreneur based in Mumbai, India.