Poverty has many causes. While some factors exacerbate poverty, there are five predominant causes of poverty: social inequality, conflict and political instabilities, education, debt and environmental conditions. Here is a closer examination of three of these causes.

Social Inequality

The United Nations Social Policy and Development Division reports that “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.” Countries where inequality is rampant display poor social indicators for human development, insecurity and anxiety. Inequality keeps the poor from moving out of their socioeconomic status.

Inequality limits access to opportunities that can provide the means to escape poverty. In a speech by Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund, Kahn explains that Adam Smith, often considered the founder of modern economics, “recognized clearly that a poor distribution of wealth could undermine the free market system.” An example of this is the former apartheid government in South Africa.

Apartheid laws assign rights and space to individuals on the basis of race. In South Africa this meant that while one group was persecuted and forced into poverty, the other group was given access to opportunities that allowed them to advance economically. This increased the gap between economic classes and the amount of people in poverty.

Environmental Conditions

Environmental degradation is the decline in the quality of the natural environment through its atmosphere, land, oceans and lakes. Indigenous groups are among the worsetaffected by such degradation. These groups often depend on the environment to survive and easily fall into poverty when that environment is harmed. A major cause of environmental degradation is climate change.

One of the outcomes of climate change is hunger. The changing climate is responsible for the destruction of harvests and other resources critical to survival. Michael Oppenheimer, professor of geosciences and international affairs at Princeton University explains, “crop yields have detectably changed. As time goes on the poor countries that are in the warmer and drier parts of the planet will feel the crop yield decreases early.” In Oxfam’s report Suffering The Science: Climate Change, People, and Poverty, the organization warns that “Without immediate action 50 years of development gains in poor countries will be permanently lost.”

Recent U.N. reports on climate change noted that “for the first time” that climate change is a threat to human security. The UN notes that the increased migration and the decrease in food are conditions that lead to conflict. The reports warn also that unless the issue is addressed, “nobody would be immune to climate change.” The report reads, “Climate change can indirectly increase risks of violent conflicts in the form of civil war and inter-group violence.” Environmental degradation can not only result in poverty, but can also lead to war.

Lack of Education

Education has lifted people out of poverty and empowered communities to grow economically. A lack of education could maintain or create poverty. Senior Fellow of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities Jared Bernstein explains, “economists may disagree a lot on policy, but we all agree on the ‘education premium’—the earnings boost associated with more education.”

According to the Network for international policies and cooperation in education and training, a main priority for poverty reduction is primary education. In developed countries almost all children have access to primary education, while in regions such as sub-Saharan Africa approximately 40 percent of children do not attend primary school due to poverty and a lack of access to education. Many people living in poverty in undeveloped countries must give up an education in order to make “a minimal living.” Furthermore, many families cannot afford school fees to send their children to school. This limits skill development and opportunities to escape poverty and create generational poverty.

There are many situations that lead to poverty. As we understand the causes of poverty, we can eradicate it more strategically. These are only three of many causes that must be understood to successfully meet the goal of eradicating extreme poverty by 2030. We created poverty, so we can eliminate it as well.

– Christopher Kolezynski

Sources: Poverty at Large, The Borgen Project, Oxfam, The American Prospect, The Guardian, NORRAG
Photo: The Daily Star

northern mali
The slow and steady recovery that Mali experienced after the extended Islamist occupation by the Tuaregs in the north was recently thrown into jeopardy. A handful of recent clashes between separatist rebels and government forces have begun to increase insecurity and hamper the effectiveness of aid efforts in the area.

What’s worse is that parts of the country have even fallen back into rebel hands.

While some displaced people have begun returning to their homes in the north, many still worry about their safety and security. Some of those who have returned even had to flee again due to rebel activity in their community.

“Tensions within communities and concerns of retribution mean people do not feel safe to return home,” said Erin Weir, Protection and advocacy advisor with the Norwegian Refugee Council. “That the constant power shifts – one day an area belongs to the rebels, the other day it is back in government hands – means people might feel secure one minute, the next they are inclined to flee again.”

This ongoing crisis with rebels in Northern Mali is often ignored by the public as other issues receive more coverage from media outlets. Yet, staff members of the Red Cross were attacked in the area earlier this year, which resulted in the stoppage of food distribution to the regions of Gao, Kidal and Timbuktu. This left 11 percent of the population, or 1.9 million people, in need of food assistance.

Similar attacks have also interrupted food distribution by the World Food Program.

Just under 250,000 people in the north are considered food insecure, and approximately two-thirds of those people are defined as in ‘crisis.’ This is only worsened by the fact that operations in Mali are underfunded by one-third.

“The recent fighting has set back the humanitarian situation and deepened the crisis,” Weir said. “Services in the north are still restricted and access to health care, education and markets are limited, not to mention food insecurity that is affected by recent displacement.”

While there are countless other humanitarian crises taking place around the world, the world cannot forget those that still haven’t been completely resolved.

While progress might be slow, the recent conflicts with rebels in Northern Mali only show how long and hard the road to recovery is. Further work is needed in order to ensure that the hard-won progress is not lost.

– Andre Gobbo
Sources: IRIN, The Economist, The Guardian
Photo: AlJazeera

women of baghdad
ISIS closes in on Baghdad. Streets and homes are emptied of Iraqi men, who enlist to protect their families, their city and their country. They do so out of a new-found national pride, a sense of duty toward the struggling Iraq or simple necessity. But as the front lines are bolstered, “home” is left to the protection of sisters, wives, mothers and daughters.

ISIS, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, was formed late last year by Iraqi Awwad Ibrahim Ali al-Badri al-Samarrai. Its estimated 7,000 to 10,000 soldiers have a steady cash flow from captured oilfields and territories. Its goal is to create an Islamic caliphate that governs both Iraq and Syria, but its methods are extreme, so much so that even Al Qaeda has renounced any association with the group. Having taken control of towns, oil refineries and even chemical weapons facilities near Aleppo and beyond, ISIS continues to move closer to Baghdad.

Citizens in Baghdad are responding to calls to action made by political and religious officials alike. Tens of thousands of men have volunteered in the anti-ISIS military effort. Men without military experience remain in Baghdad for training, while men with it are sent to the overrun Mosul, Tikrit, the Green Zone and foreign embassies. Military transport vehicles and personnel carriers have become a common sight in the capital city. Everyone is on high alert.

Baghdad is by no means defenseless. The Iraqi military has a force of nearly one million, and many remain. Iraqi officials are aided by foreign advisers, who hope to strengthen the fledgling military’s operations. President Obama awaits reports on the feasibility of drone strikes. Still, the newborn government and its even newer armed forces are being severely tested by some of the best-resourced insurgents in the modern world. That ISIS intends to take Baghdad is certain. But no one is idly waiting to find out if they can.

More than 450 women of Baghdad have volunteered for military training. Most have lost a loved one to the violence of the past few decades, feeling deeply the price of war. They will not be joining their male counterparts on the front lines, but over the course of a five day training period, female relatives of the Badr Brigade are armed with AK-47s and taught both how to shoot and how to defend themselves. Then they are left to return and defend their homes.

These women are between the ages 14 and 60. Ageel Fadhil, 14 years old, trains at the request of her mother. While her parents work, she alone is responsible for the safety of herself and her younger brother. In the event Baghdad]s security fails, her mother hopes she will have a chance.

This hope for safety, security and freedom is echoed by Iraqis across the nation and the city. While hoping for the best, the women of Baghdad are preparing for the worst.

– Olivia Kostreva

Sources: CNN 1, CNN 2, The Washington Times
Photo: Totally Cool Pix

uruguay’s “poor” president
The Economist recently named Uruguay the 2013 country of the year, noting that the country, which is described as “modest yet bold, liberal and fun-loving,” also has a leader who fits that description as well.

President Jose “Pepe” Mujica, also known as the world’s poorest President, has drawn attention not only because of his policies and bold leadership, but also because of his leadership philosophy and modest lifestyle.

At a time when world leaders often have hoards of staffers at their beck and call, it is a rare phenomenon to see a President who looks on convention and decides against it. Uruguay’s “poor” president lives in a small, one-bedroom farmhouse with his wife and donates 90 percent of his salary to charity. He drives a Volkswagen Beetle and he rarely wears a suit.

Uruguay, which has seen its fair share of conflict, has been able to make tremendous strides in poverty reduction over the past few years, falling from 22.4 percent of the population in 2008 to 12.4 percent in 2012. With a President who leads by example, it’s clear that he is just what the country needs during times of austerity and difficult decisions.

Here are 5 famous quotes from Uruguay’s Presidnet Mujica on his thoughts about revolution, leadership, and global consumption

1. “I’ve seen some springs that ended up being terrible winters. We human beings are gregarious. We can’t live alone. For our lives to be possible, we depend on society. It’s one thing to overturn a government or block the streets. But it’s a different matter altogether to create and build a better society, one that needs organization, discipline and long-term work. Let’s not confuse the two of them. I want to make it clear: I feel sympathetic with that youthful energy, but I think it’s not going anywhere if it doesn’t become more mature.”

2. “It seems that we have been born only to consume and to consume, and when we can no longer consume, we have a feeling of frustration, and we suffer from poverty, and we are auto-marginalized.”

3. “We can almost recycle everything now. If we lived within our means, by being prudent, the 7 billion people in the world could have everything they needed. Global politics should be moving in that direction. But we think as people and countries, not as a species.”

4. “Businesses just want to increase their profits; it’s up to the government to make sure they distribute enough of those profits so workers have the money to buy the goods they produce… It’s no mystery — the less poverty, the more commerce. The most important investment we can make is in human resources.”

5. “My goal is to achieve a little less injustice in Uruguay, to help the most vulnerable and to leave behind a political way of thinking, a way of looking at the future that will be passed on and used to move forward. There’s nothing short-term, no victory around the corner… What I want is to fight for the common good to progress.

– Andrea Blinkhorn

Sources: 1, 2, The Economist, Vice News, Al Jazeera, World Bank

In 2013, conflicts came to a head and raged on in many parts of the world. From Sudan to Syria, civilians suffered the effects of war-torn territory and many have been forced to leave. The rate of refugees or Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) has hit a new high. The number of refugees around the world surpassed its previous high point around the second World War. Over 50 million people around the world qualify as refugees, with half of these being children.

The head of the U.N.’s refugee agency, Antonio Guterres, said in an interview that “We are witnessing a quantum leap in forced displacement in the world,” and if the 51.2 million displaced people were to form their own country, it would be the 24th most populous country in the world. With this many people struggling to find asylum, the reason for their refugee status comes into question.

There are no humanitarian acts that can stop this; aid can only go so far. Guterres has expressed serious concern for this, acknowledging that there are too many people that need help for the capacity of many humanitarian services. The problem cannot be covered with bandages anymore, and the root of the conflicts need to be addressed.

The increased tension in Central Africa, Iran, Ukraine and other countries in crisis threaten to push the displacement number higher than it currently is by the end of the 2014 calendar year.

Guterres notes that the conflicts have resounding effects, citing the fact that Iran and Pakistan still both host 2.5 million Afghan refugees and over 6 million people have been living in exile for at least five years, if not more. Conflict resolutions will not completely fix the problem, but it will serve as a small stepping stone to placing those who have been forced to flee their home countries.

Finding asylum for refugees around the world has proven itself more difficult than expected, with many Western countries tightening the borders and adding intense regulations that make it nearly impossible for refugees to find solace. Eighty-six percent of the world’s refugees are living in developing countries, shattering the idea that many find safety in developed countries like the United States, England or the like.

Safety is not guaranteed for refugees as their population rapidly increases. With little hope for the end of many current conflicts, it is likely the number of refugees for 2014 will surpass the current status with ease.

— Elena Lopez

Sources: New York Times, The Guardian, UN
Photo: The Guardian

Situated on the Red Sea, Eritrea is one of the youngest independent countries in the world, but it is also one of the poorest. Eritrea has had to deal with being a small, seriously poor country with many socio-economic problems since it won independence from Ethiopia after 30 years of war in 1993. Like many African nations, the Eritrean economy is largely based on subsistence agriculture with around 60% of its population relying on agricultural activities, like livestock and crop production or fishing, for food and income. In 2003, Eritrea had an annual per capita income of $150 and as a result was ranked at 155 out of 175 countries on the Human Development Index. Food insecurity and poverty are extremely widespread and are increasing; nearly half of their food has to be imported even with adequate rainfall.

More than 50% of the entire country was below the poverty line, and 44% of children under the age of five were underweight between 1990 and 2001. Around 2 million Eritrean people, a large amount of the population, are experiencing economic hardship. The low productivity of their livestock enterprises and crops extremely harm rural households, the most affected by poverty. Nearly two-thirds of all the households in Eritrea lack food security.

Some of the worst droughts in Eritrea’s history threatened the lives of over a third of the population from 2002-2004. Large quantities of livestock perished or were sold fairly cheaply to pay for food and crop production greatly fell by about 25%. Malnutrition levels are very high in Eritrea and the rural people do not have much access to social services like healthcare and purification systems for clean drinking water. Many women are the heads of their households and have to produce food and care for their children. These types of households are largely disadvantaged because they rely greatly on the help of male relatives and neighbors who may not always be available when they are needed.

The mandatory military service and armed conflicts take many men away from their families and villages and this plays a large role on the severity of poverty in the country. The border war between Eritrea and Ethiopia left tens of thousands of people killed and although a peace deal was agreed upon, there are still tensions between the disputed territories. There have been more people condemned to poverty than have been lifted out of poverty from the war in Eritrea, but the government has been working toward diplomatic solutions with Ethiopia. After Ethiopia sent in troops to Eritrea in March 2012, Eritrea remained peaceful and announced that it would not retaliate, rather it would use the proper diplomatic channels to resolve the issue and eventually bring economic growth to both countries.

Though the situation does not look promising for many rural families, Eritrea has traditional ways of protecting the rural poor communities. Wealthier families dispose of assets, like livestock and crops, and then make loans to their poorer relatives and neighbors during times of great stress. A community’s wealthier families will help households that are physically unable to cultivate their own land at different times of the agricultural cycle.

– Kenneth W. Kliesner

Sources: Geneva-Academy, IRIN News, Rural Poverty Portal
Photo: WFP

Starvation War Strategy
It is hunger, more than traditional warfare, that is taking the most lives and causing people to flee from Syria. Several parts of Syria have been cut off from food for several months and the World Food Programme (WFP) estimates that three million people are hungry. The WFP has been able to deliver food aid to two million people, but over one million people are trapped in areas where no food is getting in and people cannot get out. Civilians who are in areas under siege are starving; hunger is being used as a weapon of war.

Hunger in Homs

In the city Homs, which has been under siege for the 18 months people are surviving on olives, “water soup” made of water and spices and grass and weeds picked from the street.  As of mid-February, 1,300 people, including 500 children as well as and many women, elderly, and disabled persons fled the city with the help of Red Crescent and United Nations workers.

Men between the ages of 15 years old to 55 years old were forced to stay and fight.  A temporary evacuation was allowed, but many evacuees and aid workers were wounded and many civilians were too afraid to try and leave.

Hunger forced the people to leave; food has dwindled down to nothing in the city and a one kilogram bag of rice costs $50. People were fighting over the small amount of food the U.N. was able to get into the city.  Gerard Araud, France’s U.N. Ambassador was quoted saying “We are facing the worst humanitarian tragedy since the genocide in Rwanda in 1994…starvation is used as a weapon by the regime.'”

Children Starving to Death

CNN broadcasted video footage of an emaciated one-year girl at the National Hospital in suburbs of Damascus. The child’s organs were slowly deteriorating due to hunger and she reportedly died in hospital after her heart stopped. Her distraught mother reported that she had nothing to feed her child.

Doctors have told activists and journalists that this horror story is now happening frequently here. Starvation is being used as a weapon and infants are dying as their mother’s breast milk runs dry. The elderly, the sick and pregnant women are also especially vulnerable.

Parents are risking death by leaving their homes to look for food for their children. A nurse told Amnesty International that at least four people a day suffer gunshot wounds while picking plants and shrubs in the fields nearby the Yarmouk Palestinian Refugee Camp in Damascus.

Starvation War Strategy is a War Crime

Amnesty International Secretary General Salil Shetty says Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has been starving his citizens and blocking access to humanitarian aid as a war strategy and this is considered a war crime. Reuters reports that one Syrian security official called the situation the “Starvation Until Submission Campaign.”

Save the Child recently released a report stating that parts of Homs, Aleppo, Idlib and Damascus have been besieged. Talks between the U.N. and large humanitarian organizations are underway to negotiate a way to end the suffering of civilians.

The chief of Amnesty International said that European nations are not doing their part by taking in refugees. The five countries surrounding Syria are taking in 97 percent of the refugees and they are collapsing and now in need of help themselves.  Wealthy European nations with space and resources need to step up to the plate.

Elizabeth Brown

Sources: CNN, BBC, Arutz Sheva, Reuters, Al Arabiya
Photo: Spillers of Soup

Central African Republic
The situation in the Central African Republic (CAR) is a fraught and treacherous one indeed. There are scores of Muslims leaving the country in droves as they are being systematically attacked and sometimes killed by Christian militiamen. There are several reports that indicate that at the rate at which people are fleeing the country, there could eventually be economic collapse.

The United Nations reports that of the 4.6 million inhabitants of the CAR, 1.3 of them need food urgently.

The situation in the CAR began over a year ago, when Muslim rebels seized control of the government, but Christian militiamen fought back. Since this occurred, there have been revenge killings by Christians. There has been an armed response from Muslim groups in the north, and many U.N. officials believe if there is not more armed personnel brought in extremely soon, the situation in the CAR will spiral out of control and descend into chaos.

There is an armed presence by both U.N. and French authorities, but a former French commander in a recent interview with the Economist that thousands of more troops are needed to prevent the country from sliding into complete anarchy. The Chief Prosecutor at the International Criminal at The Hague, Fatou Bensouda, is opening a preliminary investigation into suspected war crimes that may be ongoing in the CAR, reports the Economist.

There have been reports of tortures, killings, rapes, forcible enslavement and the use and recruitment of children as soldiers in the ongoing conflict.

This situation in the CAR is a desperate one indeed. While the exodus of Muslim clearly indicates that outside help and support are needed, if given official sanctioning by the U.N. and other international regulatory bodies, it may path the way for making ethno-religious persecution acceptable in the future. The eyes of the world need to turn immediately to the situation in the CAR and give it all the attention required.

Arthur Fuller

Sources: The Economist, BBC, New York Times
Photo: Global Post

The newest collection at the Brooklyn Museum offers unapologetic effects of violence around the world in a new exhibit titled “WAR/PHOTOGRAPHY: Images of Armed Conflict and Its Aftermath.” The collection features works by 225 photographers from all walks of life including military members, commercial portraitists, journalists, amateurs and Pulitzer Prize winners.

Nearly 400 pieces are present in a variety of mediums such as prints, books, magazines, albums and photography equipment. The exhibit allows visitors to explore the evolving relationship between war and photography over the last 166 years.

Several iconic pieces are present including Joe Rosenthal’s famous photograph of solders holding up the American flag on the battlefield in Iwo Jima and Robert Clarks’s images of the destruction of the World Trade Center.

Unknown works like “Valentine with her daughters Amelie and Inez” offer new perspectives on continuing issues of violence. In the photo, Valentine stands in front of a house with two young girls, her arms wrapped around one.

The image depicts the struggles of Rwandan women during the early nineties, when instances of violence and rape swept the region. The two girls with Valentine are her daughters, one conceived through marriage, the other by rape.

Other images in the collection show the endurance of humanity in the face of endless violence such as Mark A. Grimshaw’s First Cut, which illustrates an American soldier cultivating a small patch of grass in the middle of the harsh Iraqi landscape.

Some works, on the other hand, are simply heartbreaking as in the case of W. Eugene Smith’s “Dying Infant Found by American Soldiers in Saipan,” June, 1944 depicting a soldier holding the baby in his arms as another soldier watches on.

Rather than a strictly historical account of past wars, the organizers of the exhibition aim to not only reflect the effects of violence in the world but also, explore the connection between violence and photography. The exhibit’s curator, Anne Tucker explains that despite the sheer volume of images and variety of locations, certain patterns are evident in the type of photographs produced from such occurrences.

Those interested in learning more about the collection can visit the Brooklyn Museum website or visit the exhibit in person until February 2.

– Jasmine D. Smith

Sources: The New York Times, Brooklyn Museum

In spite of its massive natural resource endowments, the Democratic Republic of the Congo remains one of the poorest countries on earth, with a GDP per capita of just $194. This is in no small part due to a conflict that has been raging – at various levels of intensity – since the early 1990s. As a result, more than 5.4 million Congolese have died and over 2 million have been displaced. Widespread sexual violence and the use of child soldiers have deeply scarred communities and left them with little to no economic development. The ongoing instability and poverty in the eastern part of the country poses a threat not only to Congo’s development and stability, but also to that of its Central African neighbors.

Intercommunal hatred based on years of conflict, competition among armed groups over natural resources, and regional power struggles have fueled the instability in the region. The largest armed groups include the Rwandan Hutu militia FDLR, the M23 militia backed by Rwanda and Uganda, collections of “Mai Mai” militias, and the Congolese Army. The Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) has also been known to operate in eastern Congo.

In addition, conflict minerals, notably gold, tin, tungsten, and tantalum, utilized in most consumer electronic products, are mined in eastern Congo. Due to worldwide demand for such products, the minerals offer massive spoils to any armed group able to control the mines. This has led to greater violence as groups fight one another over access to minerals.

The weak institutions and lack of government in the region have only encouraged conflict by allowing war criminals to act with impunity. And without a strict hierarchy or accountability measures, the Congolese military effectively acts as a large gang. Corrupt police forces and judiciaries also partake in violence or turn a blind eye to war crimes and human rights abuses.

Human and economic development in eastern Congo has been entirely derailed by the conflict. Sexual violence has both physically and psychologically harmed women and left them unable to care for themselves or their families. Similarly, the use of child soldiers has devastated communities by raising death tolls and making parents unable to protect their children from harm. A lack of trust between neighboring villages and communities has also eroded development and entrenched poverty by promoting isolation and discouraging trade.

In response to the ongoing crisis, the UN has provided the largest and most expensive peacekeeping operation in the world, MONUSCO, with 20,000 personnel and an annual budget of $1.4 billion. Celebrities such as Ben Affleck have called attention to the dire situation, and USAID has begun a Community Recovery and Livelihoods Project to address victims of sexual violence and the conflict minerals industry.

– David E Wilson

Sources: Enough Project, Eastern Congo Initiative, International Crisis Group 
Photo: World Vision Australia