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

The small East African country of Burundi has been full of unrest over the past month as people have taken to the streets to protest President Pierre Nkurunziza’s bid for a third term as president, which many view as unconstitutional. Since taking power in 2005, Nkurunziza’s government has grown increasingly authoritarian as it has cracked down on journalists and opposition figures. It has also been accused of intimidating voters at the polls.

In April, the constitutional court ruled that despite a two term limit, Nkurunziza could seek a third term on the grounds that he was appointed by lawmakers instead of elected for his first term. This move sparked outrage and thousands of demonstrators have taken to the streets to demand for the president to step down.

More than 20 people have been killed in clashes with authorities and more than 100,000 have fled to neighboring countries. A group of soldiers and high ranking generals have already launched a failed coup attempt. Many, including the African Union, are urging the president to postpone the elections, which are scheduled for June, and restore peace.

Many fear Burundi is heading into a civil war. The tensions are threatening to derail the peace accords that ended a decade’s worth of fighting in the 1990s. Like neighboring Rwanda, Burundi has struggled with a violent conflict between Hutus and Tutsis for several decades that has claimed hundreds of thousands of lives. In Burundi, the conflict has included two genocides.

The 2000 Arusha Peace Agreement helped bring an end to the fighting. Most observers feel that Nkurunziza’s bid for a third term violates the agreement, which includes a two term limit as one of its provisions. The United States has been very critical of the bid for a third term, which it states as a clear violation. To make matters worse, some observers accuse Nkurunziza, a Hutu, of exploiting Hutu-Tutsi tensions to win support and detract from his government’s failures. Most of those who have fled over the past month are Tutsi.

The prospect of more violent conflict is bad news for a country that is already one of the poorest in the world. Nearly half of Burundi’s GDP comes from foreign aid, but many governments are considering cutting off aid because of the government’s behavior and some already have. Only half of all children receive any schooling and HIV/AIDS is one of the leading causes of death. According to some counts, the country has the world’s highest rate of malnutrition.

Neighboring Rwanda has been watching the tensions with a lot of unease. Many fear another bout of Hutu-Tutsi violence may emerge and that it could threaten to destabilize the region. For the time being, the future is very uncertain.

– Matt Lesso

Sources: The International Business Times, The Washington Post, DW.DE,span> The Independent
Photo: Flickr

hunger crisis in south sudan
This fall will not be a bountiful season for the world’s youngest country, according to recent warnings from several British foreign aid agencies. Four million people – including 50,000 children under five years old – are likely to be left hungry from August through November as South Sudan undergoes what its president, Salva Kiir, describes as “one of the worst famines ever.”

Political unrest in South Sudan has been rampant for over six months as warring factions fight to secure control of the government. The turmoil has already left thousands dead, caused nearly a million people to flee some of South Sudan’s more violent areas, preventing farmers from planting crops. Civil strife also complicates the distribution of foreign aid, making the upcoming famine even more dangerous for South Sudanese people.

The dangers aren’t stopping humanitarian organizations from trying to mitigate the effect of the imminent hunger crisis in South Sudan. The agencies that predicted this crisis are the same ones that predicted the famine that swept through Somalia in 2011. Having learned from the event in Somalia that public interest is crucial to financing this sort of humanitarian work, those agencies are trying desperately to drum up significant media coverage before South Sudan’s food crisis takes effect.

Lack of public awareness of Somalia’s famine – which was the worst of the century – left humanitarian organizations lacking in both private donations and government support. If such organizations are more successful this summer in obtaining the necessary finances necessary to implement targeted food aid programs in South Sudan, they could save hundreds of thousands of lives. The United Nations currently has approximately 40 percent of the funds it would take to prevent the food crisis, but over a billion dollars is still needed.

In June, South Sudan led The Fund for Peace’s list of the world’s most fragile nations. Because a famine as huge as this one can only further weaken the nation, it’s imperative that aid organizations do as much as they can to prevent such a food crisis from occurring in the first place.

Elise L. Riley

Sources: BBC, Aljazeera, Care
Photo: Youth Ki Awaaz

Crime in Venezuela
February 12 was National Youth Day in Venezuela, a day to commemorate the Battle of La Victoria of 1814, when Venezuelan students and troops achieved victory over Spanish colonists.

To celebrate, millions of students passively protested the Venezuelan government, which is led by President Nicolas Maduro. Youth in Venezuela are tired of living in an unstable and insecure environment. Last year, almost 25,000 homicides took place in the country, which has a population of about 30 million people.

While students peacefully marched their way through Caracas, Merida, Valencia, San Cristobal and Puerto Ordaz to bring to light the corrupt government, the Venezuelan military used gas bombs and guns to control the crowds. On February 12, three protesters were shot and killed in Caracas and many were injured.

In a nation already filled with tension, citizens who were pessimistic about the situation before National Youth Day are becoming increasingly cynical now. Last year in Venezuela, prices rose 56 percent and the country recorded almost 25,000 murders.

The government has tightened security on all airways of communication, taking control of television, radio and the Internet. Venezuelans have been using Twitter to communicate among each other and to the world. However, the government has now shut down this medium of communication, therefore restricting people’s access to information.

The political unrest has caused food shortages, economic stress and increased crime in Venezuela. As inflation and crime reach all-time highs in the country, citizens are looking to escape. A website that helps Latinos emigrate, mequieroir (“I want to leave”) reported record traffic during the past month. The worsening state of public affairs in the country is pushing people to look elsewhere to make a living and enjoy a high quality of life.

– Haley Sklut

Sources: Venezuela , YouTube, NBC News
PhotoSpillers of Soup