In the arid dunes of sub-Saharan Africa, women walk six hours to fetch water with nothing to eat. Arriving home, one mother decides who among her four children will eat the last oatmeal from a food aid caravan three weeks back, and who will starve.
The picture is no different in the Philippines where in the Visayan region, rural mothers scour the forests for something to eat as crops have failed. Their counterparts in Manila eat whatever food they get from the garbage, unmindful of their health.
These are images of the world’s poorest of the poor. They are trapped in long-term poverty where most likely, their children, if they survive, will live in worst or similar conditions. They are hardcore poor, extreme poor and ultra poor. They are the victims of chronic poverty because they are in it for a long, long time, an entire life or even across generations.
Who and where are they? The Overseas Development Institute (ODI) of London says there are some 500 million people in Sub-Sahara Africa, East Asia and Pacific, South Asia and the other parts of the world since 2000. It is projected to reach a billion people in five to ten years.
ODI says the chronically poor people are working people with only a minority unable to engage in labour markets. These people are those who are discriminated against such as the Dalits and Harijans or more known as “Untouchables” in India, socially marginalised people, members of ethnic, religious, indigenous, nomadic and caste groups, bonded labourers, refugees and internally displace people; disabled people and those with ill health and the young and the old. Often, poor women and girls are the most likely to experience life-long poverty, ODI said.
There are five main reasons seen behind chronic poverty, ODI bared. These are insecurity trap, limited citizenship, spatial disadvantage, social discrimination and poor work opportunities. Those who live unprotected within insecure environments often experience an extended duration in poverty. Conflict and violence are obvious sources of insecurity as are economic crisis and natural hazards. These are now evident in many countries in Africa.
People engaged in political spheres also are trapped in chronic poverty because they do not have meaningful political voice, and lack effective and legitimate political representation and power.
In many parts of the world, remoteness, certain types of natural resources endowments, political disadvantage and weak integration can all contribute to the creation of intra-country spatial poverty traps.
ODI explained the chronically poor often experience traps based on their positions within households and communities. Such social structures evolve with social orders such as class and caste systems, ethnicity or gender specific roles, responsibilities and rights. Chronically poor people often live in countries and regions where work opportunities are very limited; and even where there is broad-based growth, the employment generated is exploitative with unhealthy working conditions.
Based on country development trajectories, the 2008 Chronic Poverty Report (CPR) said the poorest of the poor are those who have low per capita income, have high child mortality, high fertility and undernourished populations.
By analysis, one can say that the number of these poor people worldwide can be lessened if they are provided social protection and assistance.
They should also be reached by public services such as vital reproductive health services, and post primary education which are keys in breaking the intergenerational transmission of poverty and have dramatic effect on chronic poor households.
The development of anti-discrimination and gender empowerment policies are essential and strategic urbanisation and migration also contribute to lessening the world’s chronic poor, CPR recommended.