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What Is Poverty
The task of defining poverty, multidimensional and complex, requires an evaluation of factors relating to a person’s access to basic human necessities. ‘Poverty’ is a widely interpreted term, and attempting to create a universal, encompassing definition remains a topic of debate for many leading experts in the field. 

Defining Poverty

What is poverty? Poverty is not knowing where your next meal will come from, or if there will be the next meal. Poverty is a lack of education, not knowing how to read or write. Poverty is being sick and not having access to medical care, or knowing that your child will likely die due to lack of medication and proper treatment. Poverty is being unemployed, fearing what comes next and fearing the future.

Poverty’s many faces rear their heads in every aspect of life. Poverty is something from which one yearns to escape, and the range of experiences with poverty vary by location and place in time.

For these reasons, The Borgen Project’s approach to advocating for the global poor delves into wide-ranging topics from many different angles. Pervasive and convoluted, poverty affects people on more than an economic level. Lack of income and infrastructure in a nation leads to insufficient medical care, education, nutrition and other quality of life deficits. 

The Cycle of Poverty

Poverty also functions as a cycle and continues generationally. Once an individual, family or community falls below a level of resource-access, events continue like dominoes to perpetuate their situation: “progressively lower levels of education and training leading to lack of employment opportunities, leading to criminal activity for survival, leading to addiction, shattered health, early death, and breakup of family, leading to even bleaker future for the next generation…. and so on.” 

Someone, or something, must intervene and structurally change the systems to interrupt the cyclical nature of poverty. The common phrase perpetuated by American Dream ideology of “pulling yourself up by your bootstraps” is impossible when institutional structures ingrained in many societies prohibit those caught in this cycle from breaking out. 

Poverty and Foreign Aid

Many U.S. citizens criticize provision of foreign aid, arguing that there are impoverished citizens within the U.S. that deserve support more than those abroad. This argument is valid; however, many Americans believe that 20 percent of the U.S. budget goes to foreign aid, which is blatantly false. 

In fact, less than 1 percent goes to help the global poor, which is far less than many countries contribute. In addition, helping the world’s impoverished strengthens global stability and improves trade, which, in turn, benefits Americans. Poverty is relative; an American living in Appalachia who has classified as impoverished lives a much different lifestyle than one living in rural Romania in a hut without running water, electricity or access to nutritious food.

The fact that poverty exists and permeates groups so deeply is a call to action for every single person across the globe.  It is the reason that advocacy organizations like The Borgen Project exist: so that one day, hopefully in the near future, every citizen of this planet will have access to basic necessities like having enough to eat, a roof over their heads, a place to learn, healthcare, protection from violent conflict and a voice that is heard in their communities. 

Fighting Poverty

We can change the world for the better. A few small actions can cause waves of difference that will reshape the lives of many, and this influential process starts by calling on the U.S. government to change their foreign policy and provide more aid to countries with severe poverty. Calling and emailing your representatives may seem intimidating, but it is easier than you think. 

Asking governmental officials to support bills like the International Affairs Budget, the Global Food Security Reauthorization Act, the Build Act and the Food for Peace Modernization Act can have an enormous impact. Phone calls and emails from constituents are simple, small actions that do make a difference. Contact Congress and make a difference to fight poverty today. 

– Jilly Fox
Photo: Unsplash

causes of poverty in Central America
Central America links North and South America and includes countries such as Guatemala, El Salvador and Panama. Tropical and evergreen rainforests bring a wealth of biodiversity and beauty to the region; however, these countries face high infant mortality, low life expectancies and especially devastating poverty. Here is an analysis of the main causes of poverty in Central America.

 

Oppressive Histories

The Central American countries have histories which involve changes in power to those who wish to conquer them. This began with Columbus and the Spanish conquest of the region, where oppression was the norm as the years went on and the region was ruled by different European elites who put down the indigenous people.

This treatment and “status quo” continued until independence reached the region in the 19th Century. By this point, though, a classist system had already been put in place, and the effects of which can still be seen in modern times. Many attribute Costa Rica’s relative success to the fact that there was only a small indigenous population when the Spaniards conquered the region, the numbers allowing them to avoid the tiered class system that developed in neighboring countries.

 

Unequal Distribution of Wealth

Of the main causes of poverty in Central America, unequal distribution of wealth is by far the most consistent. The region has seen periods of boom and bust since the end of World War II, yet the vast difference in wealth distribution remained unchanged for decades. If wealth inequality remains the same, the only way to reduce poverty is by raising incomes.

In this region, industry remains limited due to a lack of mineral and energy resources making factory jobs scarce while agriculture still dominates. These factors make it increasingly difficult for citizens to gain increased incomes; however, an adjustment to wealth inequality may not increase incomes, but it does reduce poverty.

From 2008 to 2014, there was a period of decreasing wealth inequality due to a rise in minimum wage. This change led to an almost doubling of the middle class, and with formal employment, millions were able to ascend classes and overall statistics improved, including a 65 percent decrease in infant mortality. Yet, despite these promising changes, the region remains the most unequal region in the world for prohibiting the decline of poverty.

 

Gangs and Drug Violence

One of the largest setbacks faced by Central America is the success of gangs and the drug trade. Many of the Central American countries are referred to as “transit countries” as they transport cocaine and other drugs from South to North America. With the increase of drug trafficking, there has also been an increase in organized crime brought about by competition between trafficking groups as well as the governments of the countries they operate within.

Instead of putting money into social programs which could alleviate poverty, the government must use resources to fight against these illegal activities and violence. The effects of the drug trade and organized violence can be seen in the number of children from Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador found in Mexico attempting to flee their home countries. This number reached 16,000 in the first few months of 2016.

These main causes of poverty in Central America are certainly problematic, but all hope is not lost. These countries have made significant improvements in different areas in recent years and will continue to do so in the address of the most pressing problems. With foreign aid and government cooperation, these countries can move past these issues and put the lives of their citizens first.

– Megan Burtis

Photo: Flickr

Poverty in AustraliaMore than 730,000 children live in poverty in Australia. Thirteen percent of Australians, three million people, fall below the line. What is causing this high prevalence of poverty?

Despite multiple decades of economic growth, the poverty rate has not wavered. There are 320,000 public housing dwellings in the country, and 150,000 applicants are still waiting on listings. Very few people get access to the minuscule supply of social housing in Australia. In fact, social housing accounts for less than five percent of the entire housing sector. As a result, many people living in poverty are excluded from affordable housing and the unaffordability of housing in the market directly contributes to their poverty.

A spike in single parentage contributes to poverty in Australia. According to a report by The Guardian, a rise in poverty was recorded for children in one-parent families from 2012 to 2014. That’s four percent in two years.

There is also a historic relation of inequality and poverty in Australia, with Aboriginal populations being much more likely to suffer from poverty. Aboriginal people are still rebounding from an era of discrimination and oppression.

Furthermore, many residents in Australia are feeling the negative effects of the reduction of social welfare payments such as Newstart, the parenting payment, and the Disability Support Pension. The majority of people below the poverty line rely on social security as their main source of income, although around a third subsist on actual wages.

Recent reports by charity Foodbank SA indicate more than 102,000 South Australians needed help to get food in the past year, compared to 85,000 in 2016. Foodbank SA chief executive officer Greg Pattinson says this growth is the worst the organization has seen and is largely attributed to rising electricity prices. The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) today released a report that found the average power bill for South Australian households had increased by 48 percent from 2007 to 2008. ACCC chairman Rod Sims says these increased prices are due to a clean energy target. Sims said the ACCC’s report showed the gold-plating of Australia’s power grid as the biggest factor behind the power price increases.

It is evident that the prevalence of poverty in Australia is caused by a multiplicity of factors and solutions will need to take into account this complexity.

– Sam Bramlett

Photo: Flickr

Causes of Poverty in IranIn 2016, about 80 percent of people in Iran were impoverished. Poverty in Iran can lead to a variety of other issues, including negative effects on the mental health of the country’s youth. Mental health issues in Iranians are found to be linked to a plethora of factors, economic pressure being one of them. Due to the poverty faced by many, suicide is becoming a more common issue.

In addition to affecting the mental health of young people in Iran, the country’s high poverty rate also impacts people’s physical health. With how negatively poverty has affected the people of Iran, it is essential to consider what the causes of poverty in Iran are.

Top Causes of Poverty in Iran

  1. Sanctions in Iran are cited as a cause of the country’s high poverty rate. These sanctions have affected multiple groups, one of which is Iran’s millions of Afghan refugees. Statistics have demonstrated that Afghans who are able to find work are self-sufficient and actually better the economy of Iran.
  2. Inflation is another cause of poverty in Iran. In early 2013, Iran’s inflation rate stood at nearly 40 percent. The depreciation of the country’s money has lead to an increase in the unemployment rate, which has driven many Iranians into poverty. A solution to this issue that the government of Iran has sought in the past was rationing, which prevented the country’s impoverished populations from being as affected by inflation.
  3. Besides sanctions and inflation, another cause of poverty in Iran is high medical costs. Each year, 7.5 percent of Iranians are driven into poverty because of their medical expenses. Among the top three most common illnesses to affect Iranians is cancer. Many times, the cost of treatment for families is so high that those affected by illness are not able to complete their treatment.

The high poverty rate in Iran has affected millions of Iranian citizens and has taken a toll on the mental health of the country’s youth. Among the most prominent causes of poverty in Iran are sanctions, inflation and medical expenses. As of mid-2017, the government of Iran is working toward implementing a reform agenda, which aims to help businesses and labor markets. The reform agenda is targeted at Iran’s overall goal of reducing its poverty rate. Though they face hard times as a result of their medical and economic status, children and families remain hopeful for the future.

– Haley Rogers

Photo: Flickr

what causes global poverty
As governments, aid workers and activists search for solutions to the urgent problem of widespread poverty and seek to combat its many negative effects, there is a need to identify the causes of poverty in order to create sustainable change. Understanding what causes global poverty is a crucial part of the process of devising and implementing effective solutions.

Most analysts would agree that there is no single root cause of all poverty everywhere throughout human history. However, even taking into account the individual histories and circumstances of particular countries and regions, there are significant trends in the causes of poverty.

 

Top 5 Causes of Poverty

 

  1. History
    Many of the poorest nations in the world were former colonies from which slaves and resources had been systematically extracted for the benefit of colonizing countries. Although there are notable exceptions (Australia, Canada and the U.S. being perhaps the most prominent), for most of these former colonies, colonialism and its legacies have helped create the conditions that prevent many people from accessing land, capital, education and other resources that allow people to support themselves adequately. In these nations, poverty is one legacy of a troubled history involving conquest.
  2. War & political instability
    Whatever the causes of war and political upheaval, it is clear that safety, stability and security are essential for subsistence and, beyond that, economic prosperity and growth. Without these basics, natural resources cannot be harnessed individually or collectively, and no amount of education, talent or technological know-how will allow people to work and reap the benefits of their labor. Laws are needed to protect rights, property and investments, and without legal protections, farmers, would-be entrepreneurs and business owners cannot safely invest in a country’s economy. It is a telling sign that the poorest countries in the world have all experienced civil war and serious political upheaval at some point in the 20th century, and many of them have weak governments that cannot or do not protect people against violence.
  3. National Debt
    Many poor countries carry significant debt due to loans from wealthier nations and international financial institutions. Poorer nations owe an average of $2.30 in debt for every $1 received in grant aid. In addition, structural adjustment policies by organizations like the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund often require poorer nations to open their markets to outside business and investors, thereby increasing competition with local businesses and, many argue, undermining the potential development of local economies. In recent years, calls for debt reduction and forgiveness have been increasing, as activists see this as a key means of reducing poverty. The United Nations has also made it a priority to examine how economic structural adjustment policies can be designed to place less pressure on vulnerable populations.
  4. Discrimination and social inequality
    Poverty and inequality are two different things, but inequality can feed widespread poverty by barring groups with lower social status from accessing the tools and resources to support themselves. According to the United Nations Social Policy and Development Division, “inequalities in income distribution and access to productive resources, basic social services, opportunities, markets, and information have been on the rise worldwide, often causing and exacerbating poverty.” The U.N. and many aid groups also point out that gender discrimination has been a significant factor in holding many women and children around the world in poverty.
  5. Vulnerability to natural disasters
    In regions of the world that are already less wealthy, recurrent or occasional catastrophic natural disasters can pose a significant obstacle to eradicating poverty. The effects of flooding in Bangladesh, drought in the Horn of Africa and the 2005 earthquake in Haiti are examples of the ways in which vulnerability to natural disasters can be devastating to affected countries. In each of these cases, already impoverished people became refugees within their own countries, losing whatever little they had, being forced out of their living spaces and becoming almost completely dependent on others for survival. According to the World Bank, two years after Cyclone Nargis hit Myanmar in 2008, the debt burden of local fishermen had doubled. The Solomon Islands experienced an earthquake and tsunami in 2007 and the losses from that disaster equaled 95 percent of the national budget. Without foreign aid, governments in these countries would have been unable to meet the needs of their people.

These are only five causes of poverty. They are both external and internal causes; both man-made and natural. Just as there is no single cause of poverty, there is no single solution. Nevertheless, understanding the ways in which complex forces like these interact to create and sustain the conditions of widespread global poverty is a vital step toward combating poverty around the world.

– Délice Williams

Source: Global Issues, USCCB, World Bank

 

 

Malthusianism Theories on Poverty and Aid
Thomas Malthus was a clergyman and philosopher of the late 18th century. His ideas on the causes of poverty and the means by which it could be eliminated were controversial for his time and would probably have been unspeakable in ours. However, his work shaped England’s “Poor Laws,” influenced scientists and philosophers such as Charles Darwin, and remains pertinent today.

Malthus believed that the population would always increase more rapidly than food supply, which meant that large numbers of people would always suffer from starvation and poverty. His calculations demonstrated that while food supply grew at a linear rate, populations tended to grow at an exponential one.

The inspiration behind his ideas came from his work as a parish priest, where he noticed that the numbers of poor people he was baptizing far outstripped the number of deaths he was recording. As a member of a wealthy family himself, he was also struck by the abject poverty and miserable conditions the poor were living in. At the time, almost a seventh of England was on some sort of welfare, but its population was booming.

Carrying out more studies on England’s poor gave Malthus a clearer picture of the problem. Poor families showed a tendency to have more children when their economic situation improved, even slightly, as it had after the industrial revolution. This had the effect of again lowering the average living standard of the entire family.

In this sort of poverty trap, the poor would remain unable to escape their condition. A poor family was also generally more likely to have a greater of number of children because some were always expected to die in their infancy. The solution, Malthus stated, was to encourage the poor to marry later and have fewer children, if any at all. By having children, they would be sentencing more people to live in poverty and starvation.

The way to encourage the poor to adopt this solution would be to eliminate all types of aid. While this would initially be very hard and even cruel, it would eliminate poverty and dismantle the poverty trap in the long run.

What welfare did, Malthus believed, was encourage the poor to marry earlier even when they could not support a family and have children they could not afford. The effect of this was that families continued to be poor and live on the very barest of necessities. England’s Poor Laws, which propped up people who suffered from bad harvests, was creating the very poverty it hoped to eliminate.

Once these practices were taken up, food supply could finally keep up with the lowered population growth. If food supply could not keep up, Malthus believed that three necessary and inevitable things would take place: plague, famine and war. These would once again balance out the population, but at a much greater cost.

Critics have generally attacked Malthusianism from two different angles. One side believes that a small population is not good for a country. The Mercantalists argue that high population growth, even if it results in poverty, is good for the country. It would provide it with people to fight in the army, work in factories and provide cheap services.

Mercantalists did not want the population to earn very high wages or live far above the poverty line—this would stagnate economic growth and weaken the nation. Modern anti-Malthusians also believe that low birth rates are bad for the economy because the workforce would not be able to support its older population.

Other critics of Malthusianism believe that his proposed solutions are not the best way to tackle poverty. They are needlessly inhumane. Human ingenuity can come with with solutions to expand food supply to meet population needs. Norman Borlaug, the mind behind the Green Revolution of the 1960s and 1970s, is cited as an example. He created strains of corn and wheat that had much higher yields than before, saving millions from starvation.

Neo-Malthusians, as modern proponents of Malthus are called, say the current statistics speak for themselves. Populations in almost every developing country are growing rapidly as they become wealthier and advancements in medicine keep more children and older people alive. In the last 110 years, the world’s population has grown from 1.6 billion to 7.2 billion.

But 805 million worldwide go to bed hungry, and most are from developing countries. A fourth of people in Sub-Saharan Africa are chronically malnourished. More than 750 million lack access to clean water, which leads to 850,000 deaths per year. In major cities, such as Mumbai, half the population are living in wretched and slum-like conditions. In Sub-Saharan Africa, this number reached 61 percent. Most poor people continue to have more children than they can afford to take care of.

While the poor continue to have high fertility rates, they will continue to be poor. Neo-Malthusians advocate for better family planning, a change in societal expectations and norms, greater access to contraceptives and more education about conception to reduce the poor’s fertility rates.

Radhika Singh

Sources: Orion Magazine, Population Connection, Economist, BBC
Photo: Flickr

Addiction and Poverty
It is common knowledge that poverty and substance abuse tend to exist in tandem. The direction of causation is unclear, but the link between addiction and poverty is certainly to be considered.

A study by the National Bureau for Economic Research studied the relationship between poverty and drug abuse, specifically marijuana and cocaine. The study found that there was a positive relationship between poverty and substance abuse, even when controlling for various familial factors—implying that substance abuse may even be a casual factor of poverty. A limitation of the study was that it could not account for the drug usage of the homeless and others, which further strengthened the case that drug usage may be a causal factor of poverty.

And yet, it still isn’t that simple. The study had other limitations. The drug usage was self-reported, the population studied was highly biased (mostly poor already), and assumptions on preferences and educational effects (among others) could not be proved. Nonetheless, it seems that there is a definitive relationship between drugs and poverty, and perhaps even some causal effect.

 

Poverty and Addition: Directly or Inversely Related?

 

But could the causal effect also run the other way? Quite possibly. A study from Duke University found that economically stressed children later in life experienced higher rates of tobacco usage (but not binge drinking or marijuana). The researchers attributed this effect to poverty’s impact on self-control. Although the study did not find increases in marijuana usage or other drugs, the causal chain between poverty and eventual drug usage was established.

Although evidence seems to suggest that, to some degree, drug usage can “cause” poverty, extending this logic to an extreme would be absurd. Substance abuse is not the sole driving force behind the worldwide phenomena of poverty; people born into poverty cannot have been driven to poverty by drug usage. There must be more to explain the relationship that clearly exists.

Another research paper suggests that literacy, education, poverty, income equality and unemployment are factors that lead to drug abuse, further complicating the relationship.

Conflicting papers do lead to an obvious but important point. Poverty and addiction are interlinked. Conjoined at the hip, both issues feed off each other and their effects strengthen their respective feedback loops. Poverty leads to mental states which can lead to drug abuse which leads to addiction, which begets crime, which leads to worse employment prospects. A flow diagram to show the effects and directions that these two conditions could lead to would be a huge circular mess, with arrows flying in all directions.

The question then becomes, how does a government fight poverty or substance abuse? Based on existing evidence, perhaps the best answer is that one problem cannot be adequately addressed without also attending to the other.

Martin Yim

Sources: NBER, Duke Medicine, International Journal of Basic & Applied Sciences
Photo: The Province

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poverty_in_mexico
Understanding poverty in Mexico can help us further understand immigration rates into the United States and how to create more effective policies regarding immigration in the U.S.

Immigrants from Mexico typically have a higher rate of poverty than those who are native to their country, which is referring to American natives. Approximately 25 percent of Mexican born immigrants live in conditions that are considered impoverished while living in the U.S.

This means that many immigrants that migrate to the U.S. are eligible for state-funded programs, despite having immigrant status. This leads to the controversy that many hear about in the U.S. Numerous policies regarding immigration take into consideration that many immigrants are living in poverty, and would be in need of government assistance in order to sustain a normal and healthy life.

Mexican immigrants have been the largest group of immigrants to migrate to the U.S. since the 1980s and therefore, it is not surprising that many immigration policies are directed more so to that group of the population. This is particularly important because this means that policies take into consideration that many immigrations are living in impoverished conditions and will therefore be more dependent on the government.

This is a largely contributing factor to the strict policies regarding immigration and deportation over the last twenty years or so in the U.S. Becoming a U.S. citizen and immigration into the U.S. particularly from Mexico is more difficult than it has ever been and the economic pull has much to do with such strict policies.

Poverty stricken Mexican immigrants have traveled to the U.S. with hopes for more economic prosperity, however, this is often more difficult than many immigrants anticipate. Despite finding minimum wage jobs, if that, many do not make enough money to find themselves or their families living above the poverty line. Therefore, many continue living under a poverty status and are depending on the state and government funding.

Unfortunately, a great deal Mexican immigrants find themselves continuing to live in poverty after leaving their native country, on their journey to live out the American Dream. That being said, the U.S. government has created policies with these conditions and potential outcomes in mind.

Alexandrea Jacinto

Sources: Center for Immigration Studies, Migration Policy Institute
Photo: Flickr

Manifestations-of-Poverty
Global poverty is nothing new, but some of its causes might be commonly overlooked or forgotten. Though there are many reasons for the manifestation of poverty, there are five largely important causes that need more attention from those who can make a difference.

1. Inadequate education is a highly agreed upon cause of poverty, both in first world nations as well as poverty stricken developing countries. Commonly, education quality differs between urban and rural areas, as well as between wealthy neighborhoods and poorer parts of cities. According to Project Partner of China, rural children are more likely to attend deteriorating school facilities and face insufficient materials. Meanwhile, urban children typically have outstanding educational experiences that allow them to prosper throughout their lives. Without a proper education, the cycle of poverty often continues. Children born into poverty have a difficult time receiving an education that will support them throughout life and pull them out of poverty.

2. Healthcare access varies around the world, but in a majority of poverty stricken countries little to no healthcare is provided, especially to those in extreme poverty. Inverse care, where those better off have more access to healthcare but fewer needs for it, benefits the wealthy and worsens conditions for the poor. Global Issues reported that “2.2 million children died each year because they are not immunized” due to lack of healthcare.

3. Disease goes hand in hand with healthcare, or lack thereof, and that makes it all the more obvious why healthcare is critical. Diseases quickly spread through areas that lack proper health education and offer little healthcare. As these diseases spread, it becomes more difficult for families to take care of themselves, much less thrive. According to Global Issues, “40 million people are living with HIV/AIDS, [resulting in] 3 million deaths in 2004,” leaving 15 million children orphaned. Though HIV/AIDS causes an extremely high number of fatalities, there are 350-500 million cases of malaria each year, with 1 million of those ending fatally. Notably, 90 percent of deaths from malaria are found in Africa alone. While prevention is desirable, a cure is needed to truly make a lasting difference.

4. Dependency is possibly the most overlooked issue on this list. Dependency is often associated with laziness or the concept that those dependent cannot support themselves, but it goes much deeper than that. First-world countries have created a system that keeps poverty riddled countries from being able to provide for themselves. That, however, does not mean the system was intended to push third-world countries further into poverty. Rather, the truck loads of secondhand items that are continuously shipped into third-world countries have crippled their industries, and thus made them dependent on aid. By investing in these countries to help them rebuild an economy that can flourish, more developed countries will no longer be handing them momentary help, but making a lasting impact on their livelihood.

5. Ignorance and apathy, though two different notions, result in similar outcomes. Lacking the knowledge to care or to make a difference is a sad reality among many people in the world. Apathy, on the other hand, is not wanting to gain the knowledge to improve the lives of others. It is often easiest to live a life of ignorance, so many do. Occasionally donating to your local food drive or clothing shelter are great ways to start improving the lives of others, but going the distance to educate yourself and learning how to permanently aid those less fortunate will make a lasting difference. All of the manifestations of poverty cannot simply be numbered to five, but these causes play a large role in the sad reality. Gaining education over what needs to be done to help the human race is the perfect place to start and improve the conditions of those in need.

– Katherine Wyant

Sources: Community Empowerment Collective, Project Partner of China Global Issues
Photo: Steve McCurry

root_causes_of_poverty
To understand the root causes of poverty, poverty must first be defined. Poverty is qualitatively defined as having inadequate access to basic human needs, such as food, water and shelter. The World Bank routinely uses the metric of living on less than $1.25 a day to provide a rough estimation of the underlying financial conditions of poverty. According to the World Bank, around one billion people globally fell under the category of surviving under $1.25 a day in 2011. Poverty is a multifaceted issue that exists based on the interplay between many root causes. But what are these conditions that preface poverty itself?

Food insecurity is one commonly noted characteristic of impoverished societies around the globe.

One reason for the lack of stable food supply is weather, especially extreme weather events. In many countries, extreme weather can wreak havoc not only on crop yields but entire economies. The extreme weather can cause further food insecurities for impoverished individuals via rising food prices as less food is being supplied to the market. Mother Nature can play a critical role in the lives of those in poverty by reducing the ability of a population to feed itself.

Another key factor in the cycle of poverty is lack of education or access to education.

A U.N. report showed that 171 million could be lifted out of poverty if all impoverished students had access to education enabling them to read. Across the globe, those who are least educated tend to most likely be impoverished. The correlation between insufficient education and poverty is a strong one and the reasons are clear-cut. Without education (or access to it), the impoverished face an upstream battle in the labor markets. It is much more difficult to find a higher quality occupation, or trade that pays better wages, when a person is illiterate or lacks other skills learned in school. This lack of human capital creates barriers for those in need of better opportunities and perpetuates the cycle of poverty.

The third root cause of poverty is man-made.

Political strife in the present or recent past plays an important role in the manifestation of poverty. Violence, instability and corruption, brought about by a country’s political divides, contribute to volatile economies and enormous bloodshed. Day-to-day life can be completely disrupted for the population and the conditions of poverty begin to appear: lack of shelter, food and finances. The issues sometimes worsen as poverty can lead to more civil or social unrest, prolonging conflict and instability.

Other common root causes of poverty include insufficient labor rights and discrimination, as witnessed in the “Untouchable” caste system in India. These social injustices further entrench the unfortunate cycle of poverty.

Poverty is the result of insufficient opportunities for a human being to survive, grow and prosper. Knowing what causes poverty and treating poverty are two entirely different dilemmas. Due to the fact that many of these causal factors can be dependent on one another, there is no easy solution to breaking the cycle of poverty. Yet, by attempting to understand the underlying reasons for the existence of poverty, society can make strides in the struggle against it.

– Martin Yim

Sources: World Bank, BBC, U.N.
Photo: Flickr