What is Poverty Reduction?

UNDP Assist Sudan's River Nile State's Villagers
From hand-outs to hand-ups, nations, non-profits, and individual donors do a great deal towards poverty reduction efforts. These efforts see varying levels of success, as judged against many diverse standards. Though most people have a general idea of what it means to reduce poverty, the concept of poverty reduction as such seems to evade a static definition. On the contrary, “poverty reduction” continues to evolve and grow, alongside poverty reduction strategy innovations.

Many years ago, the United States Agency for International Development, or USAID, began to address global poverty by way of financial contributions to governments of poverty-stricken nations. Early relief initiatives also included donations of agricultural commodities, often dropped in shipments from airplanes and helicopters. The idea was simple: people are hungry, give them food. Since then, the concept of poverty reduction has become a much more complicated idea.

Traditionally, the term has been used as short hand for the kind of economic growth pursued in less-developed nations, by more-developed nations, to achieve a goal of lifting as many people above the poverty line as possible. As years have passed, there has been a shift from hand-outs (i.e. simple financial and agricultural donations) toward long-term poverty reduction, which includes extended relief programs and education programs focused on sustainability in target communities.

At least one paper from the Center for Global Development in Washington D.C. argues that the traditional definition of poverty reduction fails to encompass efforts to reduce poverty that, though not falling into a category of efforts to promote long-term growth in target communities, nonetheless contribute to an ethically tenable position in the fight against global poverty. In this paper, Owen Barder argues that poverty reduction has other dimensions, for example, in the trade-offs between tackling current and future poverty or dealing with the causes and symptoms of poverty.

The danger of ignoring the various dimensions of poverty relief, Barder suggests, lead to the adoption of poverty reduction strategies that fail to take a holistic view of poverty. As a result, relief and aid programs may be less efficient, while aid agencies may be operating on underdeveloped objectives and incentives. For a more in-depth discussion of poverty reduction as an evolving concept and the working paper on this topic, click here.

– Herman Watson

Sources: Center for Global Development,UNDP, UNFPA, USAID