The Bottom BillionAccording to Paul Collier, a professor of economics at Oxford University and the author of “The Bottom Billion,” a book about the poorest one billion people in the world, “the countries at the bottom billion coexist with the 21st century, but their reality is the 14th century: civil war, plague, ignorance.”

Countries and their citizens in the bottom billion find their conditions getting worse, not better. For instance, during the 90s, while globalization lifted millions out of poverty in China and India, the income of the bottom billion “actually fell by 5 percent.”

Most of the bottom billion live in 58 countries, 70 percent of which are in Africa and most of the rest, in Central Asia. These countries are among the poorest in the category of “developing countries or Third World countries.” Some of the countries in the bottom billion include Rwanda, Congo, Sudan, Chad, Somalia and Ethiopia.

So how does a country fall within the bottom billion group? The answer to this is multidimensional and lies in what Collier terms as “poverty traps.” According to Collier, these poverty traps include conflict, being landlocked, abundant natural resources and bad governance.

When it comes to war-torn countries, Rwanda, Congo, Somalia and Sudan are some examples that fall into this category. As a result of the conflict, the economy is destroyed, lives of innocent civilians are damaged and the political unrest also causes isolation and a lack of foreign investment.

Being landlocked with bad neighbors is also a disadvantage for developing countries. When we consider a country like Switzerland, a landlocked country in the developed world, its proximity to its surrounding countries does not compromise its security and it has the ability to trade with powerful and wealthy neighboring countries. This is not the case for developing countries, which are often surrounded by poor or unstable countries.

Having abundant resources may sound like a benefit rather than a disadvantage. However, with countries like Sudan and Somalia, even though natural resources such as copper and diamonds are abundant, corrupt politicians and other leading authorities within the country are able to seize power and divide the spoils, making their economies more vulnerable.

With the levels of corruption in developing countries, it is impossible for there to be sustainable growth. Accountability, transparency, monitoring and evaluation are needed to advance these countries and lift their citizens out of poverty.

To address these issues, Collier believes that aid should be increasingly concentrated in the most difficult environments and military intervention should be focused on “protecting democratic governments.” For instance, the British helping Sierra Leone is an example of productive military intervention.

Laws and charters have also been put forward as possible solutions. Collier suggests that international charters should be adopted for natural resources, budget transparency, post-conflict situations and investment.

Finally, Collier highlights that the bottom billion need to diversify their exports and are in need of temporary protection from Asia.

The situation faced by people in the bottom billion, though dire, can be addressed. While outside intervention may be necessary in some cases, change ultimately must come from within, with the end goal being for countries to prosper autonomously and independently.

Vanessa Awanyo

Sources: The Guardian, The Economist, GSDRC
Photo: Flickr

One billion of the poorest people on the planet embody an enormous obstacle for nations today. Countries suffering from extreme poverty, overlooked and undervalued, are examined thoroughly in Paul Collier’s book, The Bottom Billion. As a professor of economics at Oxford University, Mr. Collier is well versed in the financial implications of poverty on the world as whole. Everyone who has read a history book or seen the television show Game of Thrones knows that when societies lack a leader and structured laws, chaos ensues as the fight for ultimate power begins. This situation is mirrored in the corruption consuming countries all over the world, and they are highlighted in Collier’s book.

According to Paul Collier, the 8 industrialized nations, known as the G8, will have to make a priority out of developing laws to help these ‘bottom billion’ populations. This group consists of the United States, Germany, the United Kingdom, Italy, Japan, Canada, France, and Russia. Protecting endangered states against corruption, greed, power struggles, trade resources, and more will have to become a main focus for stabilized nations in order to help eradicate global poverty.

Claiming that there are four traps countries fall into that lead to a spot in the ‘bottom billion,’ Collier lists the culprits as natural resources, corrupt neighboring nations, negative governing, and violent conflicts. No country has the ability to generate more natural resources than it already has, so creating laws that govern trade policies is one of the only ways to help states in that situation.

One suggestion offered by the author to reverse the destitute situations of poor countries is military interference. He claims that foreign financial aid is not enough to help on its own. Military force and strict legislation on corrupt leaders and factions are required to pull countries out of expensive civil wars and violent day to day lives.

Main goals of the book include debunking popular myths about global poverty and explaining why the U.S. and other stable countries need to make aggressive changes to prevent unstable nations from ‘backsliding’, or getting deeper into a state of distress than they presently are. China and other societies are doing so well on reducing global poverty that more aid is offered because they seem like a more appealing investment that is likely to succeed. Less stable countries do not look like a good fit for aid and are shortchanged by potential donors.

Simultaneously educational and inspiring, Paul Collier’s book was first published in 2007. Collier has spoken at local and national forums about the importance of forming a solution to these ‘bottom billion’ people that is as complex as the problem. Spreading awareness and correcting misconceptions the general public may have about poverty is the first step in attempting to fix it. Outlining how these countries become part of the ‘bottom’ in the first place helps clarify the intricate situation that has been created and how the way to save these people must be equally intricate. The Bottom Billion can be purchased from, Barnes and Noble, or wherever books are sold.

– Kaitlin Sutherby

Sources: TED, Amazon, The Guardian, Oxford University Press, AusAID
Photo: Bahai Forums