Can Poverty Be Eliminated In The Foreseeable Future? – OpEd


Poverty in Africa and many parts of the Indian sub-continent is endemic and its history is as old as human civilization. Many famous experts and specialized magazines have delved into the history and causes of poverty in these areas and elsewhere. Encyclopedia Britannica for example has defined poverty as the state of one who lacks a usual or socially acceptable amount of money or material possessions.

Poverty is said to exist when people lack the means to satisfy their basic needs. In this context, the identification of poor people first requires a determination of what constitutes basic needs. These may be defined as narrowly as “those necessary for survival” or as broadly as “those reflecting the prevailing standard of living in the community.” The first criterion would cover only those people near the borderline of starvation or death from exposure; the second would extend to people whose nutrition, housing, and clothing, though adequate to preserve life, do not measure up to those of the population as a whole. 

The problem of definition is further compounded by the noneconomic connotations that the word poverty has acquired. Poverty has been associated, for example, with poor health, low levels of education or skills, an inability or an unwillingness to work, high rates of disruptive or disorderly behavior, and improvidence. While these attributes have often been found to exist with poverty, their inclusion in a definition of poverty would tend to obscure the relation between them and the inability to provide for one’s basic needs. Whatever definition one uses, authorities and laypersons alike commonly assume that the effects of poverty are harmful to both individuals and society.

Although poverty is a phenomenon as old as human history, its significance has changed over time. Under traditional (i.e., nonindustrialized) modes of economic production, widespread poverty had been accepted as inevitable. The total output of goods and services, even if equally distributed, would still have been insufficient to give the entire population a comfortable standard of living by prevailing standards. Several types of poverty may be distinguished depending on such factors as time or duration (long- or short-term or cyclical) and distribution (widespread, concentrated, individual).  Collective poverty is relatively general and lasting in parts of Asia, the Middle East, most of Africa, and parts of South America and Central America. Life for the bulk of the population in these regions is at a minimal level.

Collective poverty is usually related to economic underdevelopment. The total resources of many developing nations in Africa, Asia, and South and Central America would be insufficient to support the population adequately even if they were equally divided among all of the citizens. Proposed remedies are twofold: (1) expansion of the (GNP) through improved agriculture or industrialization, or both, and (2) population limitation. Thus far, both population control and induced economic development in many countries have proved difficult, controversial, and at times inconclusive or disappointing in their results. An increase in the GNP does not necessarily lead to an improved standard of living for the population at large, for several reasons. The most important reason is that, in many developing countries, the population grows even faster than the economy does, with no net reduction in poverty as a result. 

To reduce birth rates, some developing countries have undertaken nationally administered family-planning programs, with varying results. N.R. Desaprira in an article wrote According to the World Bank’s estimates on income poverty, 42% of the world’s population lived below the poverty line of $1.90 in 1981. By 1990 however, that number had reduced to 35%. Similarly, multidimensional poverty (an index that takes into account several factors that constitute poor people’s experience of deprivation) has also been decreasing and globally only 13.5% of people are multidimensionally poor by 2017.

Despite this downward trending pattern at a global level, South Asia still accommodates a significantly large share of the poor population in terms of both income and multidimensional poverty. Regional distribution of the global poor: Where does South Asia stand? The world’s poverty rate dropped dramatically from 94 percent in 1820 to 10.7 percent in 2013. Towards the end of this period (between 1990-2013), the proportion of the poor living in South Asia grew. In 1990, when the poverty line was $1.90 a day South Asia accounted for the second largest share of the global poor  – a figure equal to almost 600 million million people, while East Asia and the Pacific accommodated the largest share almost 1000 million people. This picture however of the distribution of the world’s poor had drastically changed by 2013.

The number of poor living in Sub-Saharan Africa had significantly increased from 276.1 million in 1990 to 388.7 million, accounting for the largest share of 50.7% of the global poor by 2013. Despite East Asia and the Pacific considerably declining its share of the world’s poor (42.9% between 1990-2013), South Asia remained the region with the second largest grouping of the global poor. Specifically, South Asia’s share of the global poor has increased from 27.3% to 33.4% between 1990-2013, despite the number of poor people in South Asia falling by 248.8 million.

From various analyses, it is clear that Sub-Saharan Africa has been accounting for the largest PHI since 1992, reporting 41% in 2013. In contrast, the headcount indices of all other regions by 2013 were significantly below the world average (21.9%) between 1990-2013. In particular, South Asia performed remarkably well in poverty reduction and was able to decline its poverty rates from 44.6% to 15.1% respectively, during 1990-2013. However, the PHI of South Asia is still significantly higher than that of other regions such as East Asia and the Pacific, Eastern Europe and Central Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean. 

According to an analyst higher poverty rates and the large share of the poor in South Asia are driven mainly by region-wide political unrest. Political tension and civil wars are common in most South Asian countries, meaning such turmoil reduces the effectiveness of a country’s anti-poverty policies. In addition, ineffective, non-transparent, and non-rule-based anti-poverty fiscal transfer programs in the region do not facilitate poverty reduction while increasing the level of fiscal unrest in an economy.

The Multidimensional Poverty Index (MPI) is based on three dimensions and ten indicators developed by the Oxford Poverty and Human Development Index (OPHI). According to this data, the declining trend of global multidimensional poverty between 2011-2017 is remarkable.  South Asia accounted for the largest share of global multidimensionally poor people between 2010-2017. More specifically, South Asia accommodated almost half of the world’s multidimensionally poor in 2017. Compared to the Middle East and Africa South Asia performed remarkably well in poverty reduction by reducing income poverty by 29.5%, South Asia has accommodated the second largest share of global poor between 1990-2013.

Therefore, South Asia’s poverty reduction outcomes are negligible compared to East Asia and the Pacific, which were able to decline the share of poor accommodated by 42.9%. In terms of multidimensional poverty, South Asia has been accounting for the largest share of global multidimensionally poor people between 2010-2017. More specifically, South Asia accommodated almost half (48%) of the world’s multidimensionally poor people in 2017. The proportion of poor people in South Asia, however, has reduced by 3% while the shares for Sub-Saharan Africa and the Arab States have increased by 8% and 2% respectively. While at first glance the figures on the reduction of poverty globally look encouraging, upon closer inspection the picture is poor for South Asia. 


In the present enmeshed world with many countries possessing nuclear weapons, both declared and undeclared, and complicated formulas relating to deregulation  and global hot spots in the Middle East and Africa where multipolarity has become the name of the game along with the ascendency of AI in many parts of the world( particularly Global Right ) the US has lost the power it enjoyed since the Yalta Conference in a so-called “rules-based world” , practiced more in the breach than in honor,  the US has to take along its partners to implement any of its mission. NATO, the European Union, and others are unwilling to abide by the dictates of the so-called Super Power. In particular, the “limitless” friendship between China and Russia that stands in the way of Western Suzerainty and China’s Road and Bridge Initiative has attracted many developing countries to develop infrastructure in their countries they need but have no funds, despite Donald Trump’s Vice President Mike Pence’s public warning on China’s Debt Trap.  

Ambassador Kazi Anwarul Masud

Kazi Anwarul Masud is a former Secretary and ambassador of Bangladesh

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