Ending the legacy of poverty

Once in a while, someone born into wealth and power manages to make a mess of things and ends up on the other side of the tracks. Once in a while also, a true heir of poverty manages to epitomise the real rags to riches story. Often in both cases, the protagonist is helped somewhere along the way to where s/he ends up by a scheming scoundrel or a philanthropist. The stories abound.

However, while there is the off chance that the heir to a fortune could, like the prodigal son, be welcomed back into the fold; this does not hold true for the majority of the latter group. They live and die in abject poverty. A sad state of affairs when one considers that the resources of the world are enough to give each of its living citizens a fair deal. Unfortunately, this fails to happen because of greed.

The world is currently in a state where too many of its citizens—1.3 billion or thereabouts—live with the inherited legacy of not just poverty, but extreme poverty. Too many are fated to pass it on to their descendants as has been done for generations, unless actions are taken today to end the dreary cycle.

World statistics reveal that most of the people living in poverty are children. The majority of poor people, unless it is medically and physically impossible, have 4, 5, 6 and more children, many more than they are capable of caring for and these children often go on to do the same thing.

Poor children might fail to reach their full potential because of lack of access to education – many are forced to leave school before they have acquired enough knowledge to put themselves in a position to change their lives. They are forced to work at occupations below the poverty line, if they manage to find work at all.

Often too, poor nutrition is the culprit. Children attend school, yes, but cannot concentrate because they are hungry or what they eat has no nutritive value. They may exit the educational system slightly less ignorant than they joined it and quickly become part of the growing mass of illiterate and semi-literate people populating the earth; cogs in the wheel of the poverty cycle.

However, there is hope yet for the world. There is currently a huge anti-poverty movement, led by such known stalwarts in the fight as economist Jeffrey Sachs, singer Bono, the Gateses (Bill and Melinda), World Bank President Jim Yong Kim and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and others. These individuals and several groups have come together with the aim of ending extreme poverty by 2030.

The eradication of extreme poverty and hunger, which would have seen the reducing by half of the proportion of people living on less than a dollar a day and the reducing by half of the proportion of people who suffer from hunger is the first of the eight Millennium Development Goals. The target date for this and the other seven—2015—is almost upon us. The general consensus is that while some countries have already met this goal or part of it, for too many it is still out of reach.

One of the barriers to attaining this goal, perhaps the largest obstruction, is the constant and ongoing conflict between and in countries. Years of painstakingly built progress can and have fallen in a single day in combat situations. Bombs take not just lives but the livelihoods of those who manage to survive. Food sources, access to clean water and sanitation, homes and schools are obliterated daily in conflict zones. In addition, war drives masses into refugee situations putting endless pressure on the resources of the countries forced to take them in.

Another huge barrier is corruption. This sickening but very prevalent evil is present in too many spheres of our existence. But where it does the most damage is when it exists at the governmental level and when there is donor to recipient complicity. Projects and programmes aimed at ending the legacy of extreme poverty either get nowhere fast, or do not reach the intended targets. The need for accountability and for making the recipient community or village people partners in such projects cannot be stressed enough.

Extreme poverty exists where people live on less than US$1 a day. This includes people who can often not afford a single balanced meal in a day and have no means to pay for necessities like water, electricity, medicines and books. In Guyana, a visit to the market on any given day reveals how much fresh food is available. Yet this country has people who cannot afford to buy enough to cook a single meal on any given day. Yes Guyana has its share of inheritors of the poverty cycle. It will take the constancy of those who govern along with diligent watchdogs to remove the known barriers to poverty alleviation and to end the cycle.

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