Poverty

This is the second article in a series of General Paper revision topics that we have prepared for you at Basecamp.

Living in Singapore, we rarely see truly destitute people. Even our relatively poor segment lives in 1 room HDB flats and receives subsidies from the government every month. As a result, it is easy to forget that there is a group of people living in absolute poverty who are severely deprived of basic human needs such as food, safe drinking water, sanitation facilities, healthcare, shelter and education. Instead of asking themselves, “where should I go for my next meal? Do I prefer chicken rice or nasi lemak”; they ask themselves, “How do I get my next meal? Should I eat scrapes from the dumps or should I sell my children?” To them, survival is a constant concern. 

It is heart-breaking to know of such poverty and we might blame their governments for neglecting their people. Although that is true, poverty is more complicated than simply poor governance on the part of third world countries’ governments. It is a multi-faceted issue which we shall examine in detail below. 

Causes of poverty

1. Uncontrolled population growth

In 1950, the world’s population was 2.5 billion. Today, it is more than 7 billion. Every additional person needs food, water and energy (and produces more waste and pollution) so everyone’s share of resources gets ratchet down – the poor far more than the rich because population growth is faster in less developed countries. 

2. Global warming 

The poor face greater incidence of malnutrition, waterborne diseases and death from rising temperatures

Climate change is worsening poverty. Water shortages, extreme weather, deteriorating conditions for food production, and sea-level rise threaten development and trigger humanitarian crises across the globe. The poor also face greater incidence of malnutrition, waterborne diseases and death from rising temperatures.

Just this year, four-fifths of the crops in Ethiopia failed as a result of the worst drought in decades. This left more than 10 million people in need of food aid. 

3. Poverty trap

Hunger and malnutrition, the lack of robust health care systems and social protection, and unstable political climate compound one another and contribute to the destitution of people in the developing world.

A healthy workforce is important for economic growth. In Sub-Saharan Africa, lack of healthcare is at crisis level and many are unable to afford the expensive drugs made by large pharmaceutical firms. As a result, deaths from treatable diseases such as diarrhoea, pneumonia, malaria, HIV-AIDS and even measles are widespread there. 

80% of people in the world today – typically the poorest, most vulnerable and food-insecure—have no access to social protection. For this reason, when disaster strikes, it has a more dramatic effect on the lives and livelihoods of poor people.

Over 60% of Sub-Saharan Africa’s population is under the age of 24 with few economic prospects and this has increased the risk of civil conflict and unrest. This deters foreign direct investments. likewise, Rwanda’s president Paul Kagame also mentioned that poverty was a contributing factor to the Rwandan genocide. 

4. Poor governance

Governance in many less developed countries is marked by inefficiency and corruption. For instance, the African Union estimates that corruption costs African nations $150 billion a year. To do business in Cameroon, a potential investor has to wait 426 days to perform 15 procedures to gain a business license. This explains why no head of state won the Ibrahim Prize for Achievement in African Leadership, a prize recognising good governance in Africa, in 2012, 2013 and 2015.

Poverty may seem like a hopeless case given how deep-rooted and widespread it is. And we may feel dwarfed by all the suffering and death that is occurring. However, it is often in the darkest nights that the light of compassion shines the brightest. Will we be that light?

My candle burns at both ends;
It will not last the night;
But, ah, my foes and, oh, my friends,
It gives a lovely light

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