Causes of Poverty in South America
Current events such as protests and political upheavals in Venezuela and Brazil have drawn attention to problems plaguing South America. Some of those problems, having been left unaddressed, have caused higher rates of poverty in Latin and South America. Below are several factors considered to be major causes of poverty in South America at present.

  1. Unequal distribution of wealth
    In much of South America, particularly in well-known tourist countries, run-down slums exist next to wealthy urban areas in part due to unequal distribution of economic success. According to the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean, Latin and South America are the most unequal regions in the world in terms of wealth. Corporations, politicians and unequal opportunities contribute in part to high poverty rates among the majority of the population.In Brazil, wealth being hoarded by the top one or two percent of citizens has contributed to a high number of children living and earning money on the streets because their parents can no longer support them. Despite helpful tourism revenue, poverty rates in certain popular areas of South America rise steadily because of wealth inequality.
  1. Colonialism/Racism
    In South and Latin America, poverty can become a generational epidemic because of leftover institutions and sentiments from the Casta system. Casta was a complex system of written rules based on racial segregation similar to the Hindu Caste, where people were separated into societal classes based on appearance and ethnic makeup that determined where they could live, who they could marry, what jobs they could work and more. The system was popularized by early white colonialists in the region and the lingering effects of it have been among the causes of poverty in South America.
  1. Political turmoil
    Honduras, Venezuela, Brazil, Argentina and others have undergone major changes in political leadership in recent months and years, and the lack of clear democratic process in a lot of these countries has been among the causes of poverty in South America. According to the Economist, Brazil and Colombia are set to elect new presidents in the coming months, but “they will do so amongst rising public anger over corruption, amid a plethora of corruption scandals across the region in recent years that have in many cases implicated high-level politicians.”In Peru, for example, President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski narrowly avoided impeachment after it was discovered he had ties to corrupt Brazilian construction company Odebrecht, which has admitted to paying bribes to governments. As has been proven multiple times, corrupt or destabilized governments often prove disastrous for the economies of the countries they oversee, which can only have a negative effect on the poverty level in the country.
  1. Education
    In South America, the education gap mirrors the income gap between rich and poor. According to WorldFund, “74 million South Americans (about 12.4 percent of the region’s population) live on less than $2 per day. Over half of them are children. Children in the bottom income quintile complete an average of eight years of school versus over ten years completed by children in the top income quintile.” Access to quality education in South America for those living below the poverty line is incredibly rare and difficult to achieve. WorldFund states that “education investments are inadequate, poorly directed and favor high-income students.”

While conditions in South America are improving, progress in certain areas is slow. Those living in poverty in South America are often directly affected by the factors above. The introduction of more efficient and generous international aid programs to people in the region that need it is becoming more and more essential to help combat some of the causes of poverty in South America.

– Arianna Smith

Photo: Flickr

Poverty in South America is considered living on $4 per day.

The northern tip of the continent (the countries closest to Panama) are the countries with the largest headcount of impoverished people in South America; they range from 20 percent to 40 percent of the population. Guyana and Suriname range between 46 percent and 53 percent of the continent’s population living on $4 per day; some live on less than that amount.

The southern half of South America has a much lower percentile of the population living below the poverty line, excluding Bolivia, which is at a steep 48 percent. Chile and Uruguay are at 11 percent and Argentina is at 7 percent.

Poverty in South America has declined within the last two decades. In 1990, 12.2 percent of the population was living on $1.25 per day; that number has dropped to 5.5 percent despite the population’s rising from 422.3 million in 1990 to approximately 581.4 million.

The main target of poverty in South America is the rural population and this is due to the increasingly warm temperatures and global warming’s affect on agricultural areas. 20 million people living in Brazil live in the barren parts of the country. The poorest people in South America are the native people of Ecuador, Bolivia and Peru who live in the mountainous Andes regions.

Many people have moved to large cities in search of employment, but 35 percent of the region’s poorest still live in the rough climate of the Andes Mountains.

Rural poverty is caused not only by the drastic changes brought on by global warming, but also because of the “lack of access to and unequal distribution of productive land, and inadequate access to information and productive assets for smallholder farmers.” Geographically, many living in rural areas have very little access to other people, which can make selling food and obtaining agricultural necessities difficult.

During recent years, governments have adopted policies that have led to a decline in interest and investments for rural farmers, which has been a factor in the increase of rural poverty in South America and the decrease of housing, health providers and education available to smallholder farmers.

– Rebecca Felcon

Sources: Rural Poverty Portal, World Bank
Photo: Merco Press