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Poverty: A Global Issue

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Published: Wed, 17 May 2017

2.1 Introduction

Poverty is a global issue. All the countries around the world face the problem of poverty, but there are some countries which are poorer than others like the developing countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America. There is no one size fits all definition of the concept of poverty. The poorest people in an industrialized nation maybe well off than the average citizens in a less-developing country. The definition of poverty alternate from regions across the planet. According to the United Nations’ Human Development Report 1996, the average per capita income of the poorest one-fifth of Americans was $5,814 in 1993. That figure is ten times Tanzania’s average per capita income of $580 per year. By Tanzanian standards, Americans in that bottom 20 percent may seem quite well-off. However, by U.S. standards, they are not. They point out that most poor American families own more luxury items and consumer appliances than average Europeans do (UN 1996). Although there are some regions have made considerable progress in reducing poverty, about two thirds of the world’s poor live in Asia and the Pacific, based on a poverty line of one dollar a day. That region’s number of the world’s poor exceeds two thirds if the poverty line becomes two dollars. There are more than one billion people in the region whose income is between one and two dollars a day. There are two types of poverty, extreme poverty or absolute poverty and relative poverty.

Extreme poverty is known as destitution or absolute poverty and it could be injurious to people’s health and life. In the United States, absolute poverty is traditionally defined as having an annual income that is less than half of the official poverty line (an income level determined by the Bureau of the Census). Absolute poverty in developing nations, as defined by international organisations, like the World Bank, means having a household income of less than US $ 1.25 a day in 2005. Relative poverty is the condition of having fewer resources or less income than the others within a society or country, or compared to worldwide averages. Relative poverty is socially defined and dependent on context, it is a measure of income inequality. The reasons for poverty are not clears. Some people believe that poverty results from a lack of adequate resources on global level-resources such as land, food, and building materials-that are necessary for the well-being or survival of the world’s people. (Adapted from Wikipedia 2012). Other defines poverty as being an effect of the uneven distribution of resources around the world. According to this second line of reasoning, it helps to understand the inequality between the two worlds, one where some people have more than they need to live and one where the people do not have enough to survive.

There has been considerable interest in recent years in the ability of non-governmental organisations to work with the poor in order to improve their quality of life and economic status through the provision of credit, skills training, and other inputs for income-generation programmes. The term “non-governmental organisation” can be broadly viewed as being composed of a wide variety of organisations variously known as “private voluntary organisations”, “civil society organisations” and “non-profit organisations” (McGann and Johnstone,2006). In the cases in where NGOs are totally or partially funded by governments, the NGO maintains its non-governmental status by excluding government representatives from membership in the organization. Defining the term NGOs is ambiguous as they are confusing, contradicting, and sometimes overlapping in defining the terms. The NGOs sector is extremely divers as these organisation have very different structures, goals and motivations. NGOs are generally composed of non-profit, voluntary citizens, groups which are organised on a local, national or international level and they have certain interests, causes, or goals.

NGOs work in many different fields, but the term is generally associated with those seeking social transformation and improvements in quality of life. There are many NGOs, who are affiliated with international aid and other donors, but NGOs happens not to funds and they try to generate their own, such as selling handicrafts or charging for services. In the recent decades, NGOs have moved from backstage to centre stage in reshaping the world of politics, and are exerting their power and influence in every aspect of international relations and policymaking. NGOs have a positive impact on local and international issues, such as poverty alleviation, conservation of human rights, preserving the environment, and providing worldwide relief. The growth of NGOs has been too a large extent fuelled by the inability of both domestic and international institutions to respond adequately to major economic, social and political changes which have been taking place at a fast pace (Heap, 2000). The number of international non-governmental organisations (INGOs) alone rose from 6,000 in 1990 to reach 26,000 in 1996 (The Economist, 1999), and 37,000 in 2002 (UNDP, 2002). Figures for NGOs operating at national level are much higher: Russia, for instance is estimated to have some 277,000 NGOs and India between 1 million and 2 million NGOs (Chicago Tribune, 2007). In 2006, it was estimated that there were some 1.5 million NGOs in the USA alone (McGann and Johnstone, 2006).

2.2 Evolution and Growth of NGOs

International non-governmental organizations have been dating back to at least 1839. In 1914 there were 1083 NGOs (UN 2007). International NGOs played a big part in the anti-slavery movement and the movement for women’s suffrage, and reached a peak at the time of the World Disarmament Conference. However, the term “non-governmental organization” only came into popular use with the establishment of the United Nations Organization in 1945 with provisions in Article 71 of Chapter 10 of the United Nations Charter for a consultative role for organizations which are neither governments nor member states (UN 2007). Globalization occurring during the 20th century gave importance to the rise of NGOs globally and most importantly in developing countries. International treaties and international organizations such as the World Trade Organization centred their interests mostly on capitalist enterprises. In an attempt to counterbalance the interests of these international organizations and international treaties, NGOs were developed to emphasize humanitarian issues, developmental aid and sustainable development.

Though the term NGO became known to the world in the year 1839 the voluntary sector around the world is much older than this. In England voluntary work made its way back in the medieval time where the poor were being looked after by the monastery. The poor people and the beggars were taken care by the monasteries and churches. It was like this that in England there was the introduction of the Poor Law and later it became the Welfare States. But in the beginning it all started as voluntary work as the clergy men were not paid to help the poor. Voluntary work has always been present, especially among the religious organisations, giving food or money was common. NGOs in its traditional form have been working in different religious trust-based schools, hospitals and orphanages. In India NGOs became known in 1980s but voluntary work started after the independent from the British in 1946. In independent India, voluntary organizations started by Gandhi and his disciples were to fill in the gaps left by the government in the development process. In the 1980s, however, the groups who were now known as NGOs became more specialized, and the voluntary movement was fragmented into different groups.

2.3 Evolution of NGOs in Mauritius

NGOs in Mauritius started with voluntary works for the welfare of society. In the past, such type of social works started with the bourgeoisie class, the young girls from the upper class where were doing charity work to help the poor like giving them food and sometimes educating them. Later on this voluntary work was untaken by other agencies like the church or other religious bodies, like for example “Arya Samaj” who helps poor people by giving free education to their children and till now it is still done. Much of the charity work and voluntary work which are done now were performed in the past by religious organisations. They worked dependently from the government even if the government were allocating them money. NGOs are present where the government or other organisations have failed to cater for those in need. There are a large number of religious organisations that are considered to form part of NGOs according to Macoss. Some examples of these organisations are: Al Marjaan Islamic & Secular Institute, Hindu Maha Sabha, Jummah Mosque Port Louis, Arya Sabha, and Adventist Development Relief Agency.

NGOs became known quiet recently thought Macoss (Mauritius Council of Social Service) in Mauritius. The Mauritius Council of Social Service was founded in November 1965 and it was incorporated, under Act 55 of 1970, voted in Parliament, providing the legal framework of the Council. As an Umbrella organisation for NGOS, Macoss seeks to promote Social and Community Development and Voluntary Actions through Non-Governmental Organisations. It helps its members by initiating communication, collaboration and networking among NGOs and between NGOs, Government and private sector, primarily through meetings, workshops, consultation and institutional development activities. Macoss also facilitates its member’s organisations and strengthens their organisation capacity. Macoss plays a leadership role in good governance, policy, advocacy, capacity building and innovation for a vibrant, efficient and effective Non Government Organisation sector and Civil Society Organisation.

2.4 Causes of Poverty

Poverty is like a vicious circle. Poverty causes poverty. Just as the rich people get richer as they are already rich and the poor get poorer because they live in poverty. Poverty has many causes and some of them are very basic. Some experts suggest that poverty is caused due few employment or lack of food. The basic factors that may lead to poverty are: inadequate education and employment opportunities overpopulation, inability to meet standard of living and cost of living, certain economic and demographic trends, the unequal distribution of resources in the global economy, welfare incentives and environmental degradation.

2.4.1 Overpopulation

Overpopulation is the situation where large numbers of people have too few resources and too little space, and this is closely associated with poor people. This overpopulation can result from high population density, which is the number of people to land suface, usually showed as numbers of people per square kilometre or square mile, or there are low amounts of resources, or from both. Very high population densities put stress on resources that are available. Only a certain amount of people can be supported on a given surface of land, and that number depends on how much food and other resources the area can provide. In countries where people live by primary means of basic farming, gardening, herding, hunting, and gathering, even where there are larger land surfaces the production of food is still low given the number of people are small is due to the production means. The production means is not intense enough to produce large amount of food to feed large amount of people.

2.4.2 High Standards of Living and Costs of Living

People in developed countries generally enjoy a higher standard of living because these nations may have more in terms of resource and wealth than those in developing countries. People who may have adequate resources and wealth in a developing country maybe be considered as poor in a developed country. For example people in America, on average, tend to expect to make, about $30,000 per year. They may also expect to rent a house or an apartment with electricity facilities and water supply, to able to buy food to eat and clothes, and get health care provision. In addition, many of these people hope to afford other expenses, such as, the purchases material not need for survival, such as cars, entertainment and high priced food. In comparison, people in most developing countries usually may consider themselves to be well off if they have productive agriculture, some cattle, and a house made out of mud-bricks. In the rural areas, people can be used to not having water facilities, electricity, or adequate health facilities.

Developed countries tend to have a high cost of living, even the most basic lifestyle with few or no luxuries; can be relatively expensive as compared to developing countries. Most people in the United States, Canada, Japan, Australia, western European nations, and other developed countries cannot obtain adequate food, clothing, and shelter without ample amounts of money. In some areas, even people with jobs that pay the legal minimum wage may not be able to cover their basic expenses. People who cannot find well-paying jobs often have no spare income for emergency expenses, and many rely on state welfare to survive.

In Mauritius about 106,000 citizens or 8.5% of the population live in absolute poverty; this is according to figures released by the Ministry of Finance. These figures reveal that the number of Mauritians living under the poverty line is increasing. From 8.2% in 1996/97, it fell to 7.8% in 2001/2002 to reach 8.5% in 2006/2007. The minimum wage for an adult living in a poor family is estimated at Rs 3,821 monthly. In Rodrigues, the rate of poverty is higher. It is estimated at 32.4% in 2006/2007 against28.7% in 2001/02.

2.4.3 Inadequate Education and Employment

Illiteracy and lack of education are very frequent in developing countries. Very often the state of developing countries cannot afford to cater for good educational facilities to the people, especially those living in rural areas. Whereas in industrialized countries nearly all children have access to at least the basic education, in sub-Saharan Africa only about 60 per cent children go to elementary school. Without education, most people in the developing countries are unable to find income-generating work. Poor people are also often propelled schooling so as to concentrate on earning a minimal living. In addition, developing countries tend to have fewer employment opportunities as compared to developed countries, especially for women. Resulting in the fact that, schooling is perceived as being crucial to people.

Even in developed nations, unemployment rates may be high. When people do not work, they cannot earn a living; thus, high rate of poverty is a result of high unemployment. The amount of employment that is available also tends to fluctuate; creating high unemployment periods. If the unemployment level in countries with high population increases with only a few points, this leads to millions of people who are able to work and earn a living. Because unemployment figures indicate only the number of people eligible to work who have no job but are seeking employment, such figures are not necessarily an accurate indicator of the number of people living in poverty.

2.4.4 Economic and Demographic Trends

Economic trends can sometimes be linked with poverty in many developed countries. In the year 1950s and 1960s, for example, in the United States most people experienced a growth in their income due to economic boom and in Mauritius it was in mid 1970s. The average income of a family was doubled in that period even with inflation. However, there was a rise in the standard of living taking into consideration inflation, between the years 1970s and the years 1990s. Young people and less-educated ones are more affected when there are periods of economic recession as they find it difficult to get a job and support them.

Poverty levels have also been increased with changes in labor markets in developed countries. In many developed countries the amount of poor has increased resulting from the inequalities in the distribution of resources. For example, since the 1970s, the 20 percent poorest of all U.S. households have earned an increasingly smaller percentage of the total national income while the wealthiest 5 percent of households have earned an increasingly greater percentage. During mostly of this period, due to an increase in the cost of living the middle and those at the bottom in the distribution line have worsened.

2.4.5 Individual Responsibility and Welfare Dependency

There are different schools of thought about individual responsibility for poverty. Some believe that there is a proportion of the society who would stay in poverty no matter what due to the structure of society. While some other thinks that due to some dysfunctions of some social institutions such as the labour force, poverty would be pertaining. According to this school of thought poverty id beyond the control of the people who are in it, but this problem can be remedied if proper policies are implemented. There are other people who think that the poor people tend to stay in poverty intentionally. For example, there are people who choose to take drugs voluntarily leading them to stay in poverty these people can be blame for their situation.

Adding to that there are those who think that many people in developed countries tend to throw the blame on cycles of poverty, people who have the tendency to remain poor, or they depend on the generosity of the welfare institutions. Those who support this view includes some politicians, criticize the government to spend too much on the poverty though welfare programs. They argue that such welfare programs encourage people to stay in poverty in so as to benefit from payments continuously. They also argue that these welfare programs discourage marriage and work. In the American society and several other developed countries, being employed reduces their welfare supports and it is the same if a single parent gets married.

2.5 NGOs Performance in Poverty Alleviation in Other Countries

According A.K.M. Ahsan Ullah, Jayant K. Routray, (2007), a very important aspect of poverty in Bangladesh is unemployment or being under-employment. These people are dependent mostly on agriculture to survive in the rural areas and most of the time they are not owners of the land or own too little land to be able support their family. There are more than 20,000 NGOs have been performing in Bangladesh with two major aims of alleviating rural poverty and empowerment of the women. However, the phenomena of poverty in Bangladesh are much higher as compared to the East Asian countries and the South Asian neighbours. Since, poverty is persistent in Bangladesh, the great majority of the poor do not own their land, and there is relatively few number of formal sector employment opportunities in rural areas, poverty alleviation strategies of NGOs have focused particularly on the possibilities for generating income as a solution. One of the major reasons for the increasing use of NGOs in countries like Bangladesh in the developmental activities is to find an alternative and better channel for development aid in the third world countries.

All the NGOs work with two basic missions, to alleviate poverty and empowering the poor, especially women (Lovell, 1996; BRAC, 2000) by organizing them into small groups at the village level, arranging adult literacy programmes, providing necessary training and regular discussions on particular issues. Nearly, 60 million people of the population of Bangladesh have been brought under different health programmes by NGOs. These programmes aimed at reducing childhood and maternal morbidity and mortality; and increasing awareness about sexual health. NGO’s non-formal primary education programme has covered about three million children from poor families. Among which the majority of the children are girls. Non-formal primary education programme of the BRAC (Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee) is regarded as the world’s biggest private sector educational system and is being replicated in other countries of the world as well (BRAC, 2000; Proshika, 2001).

According to Keith M. Henderson author of Alternatives to imposed administrative reform: the NGOs: In the Caribbean, NGOs serve as intermediate between the micro-level of the poorest household and the formal institution of the state (a role which might otherwise be served by political parties or trade unions). NGOs and local development organizations (LDOs) are widely seen as agents for alternative development, particularly because, as a sector, they have begun to formulate development policy in order to improve considerably the life of the citizens and often with a direct impact on official aid policies. Along with the larger efforts, such as the Village Awakening Movement in India which operates in thousands of villages, and the related Sarvodaya Shramadana movement in Sri Lanka which focused on small scale village improvement projects in more than 8,000 villages, are the Christian

Base Communities found in Brazilian rural areas. The State very often is unable to cater for these poor villages in India and rural areas in Brazil. These movements perform important service-delivery functions. In Latin America, pervasive distrust of the US has resulted in a variety of indigenous organizational forms – often unsustainable – and a fertile ground for grass-roots movements. Considerable attention has been given to the political role of such activities; much of the literature is in Spanish. In Eastern Europe and the former Soviet republics, the term “foundation” covers a multitude of private groups organized for collective action. In Africa, numerous small-scale self-help projects, such as banking schemes, food storage arrangements, barter exchanges, family planning, and traditional medicine centres, have been initiated by peasant farmers with the help of NGOs.

According to Mritiunjoy Mohanty (2006) NGOs in Bangladesh have been using the microcredit as a means to alleviate poverty there.” Microcredit is the extension of very small loans to impoverished borrowers who typically lack collateral, steady employment and a verifiable credit history. It is designed not only to support entrepreneurship and alleviate poverty, but also in many cases to empower women and uplift entire communities by extension. In many communities worldwide, in developed and developing nations alike, women lack the highly stable employment histories that traditional lenders tend to require” (2012). Noting the pioneering work done by Mr. Yunus and the Grameen Bank, it is worth recording that it has been providing the poor in Bangladesh as a medium of access to financial resources. There are other NGOs that have walked, struggled and prospered down the same path, as the Grameen bank has since the 1970s and the Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee or BRAC. To draw attention to the role of other NGOs involved in microcredit is not to take away from the catalytic role Mr. Yunus and the Grameen Bank played both at home and abroad in furthering the microcredit movement but it is to show the work they have accomplished together in poverty alleviating in Bangladesh.

2.6 NGOs Performance in Poverty Alleviation in Mauritius

There is a number of NGOs working in order to alleviate poverty in Mauritius such as SOS Poverty, Caritas Mauritius and Currimjee Foundation, Le Centre Des Pauvres, Maison Familiale Rurale Du Nord, etc… These NGOs help people in different ways like for example in Maison Familiale Rurale Du Nord they try to eradicate poverty by sensitizing youngsters from poor families. The young people are given training in hotel mechanics, agriculture and hospital services. They promote a sense of entrepreneurship among these young people and encourage a sense of social inclusion to help them come out of their poverty. SOS Poverty is a non-governmental and charitable organization set up to fight poverty and social injustices in the country. So far they have implemented a global plan of actions, comprising of several micro projects implemented, laying emphasis on two major factors: Education and Economic. Their field of action consist of pre-primary education, women empowerment like organising a corporate organisation in order to help women wanting to work and earn a living to come out of poverty. They endeavour to combat poverty through inclusive education/ training programmes and self-help socio-economic programmes.

The Currimjee Foundation in association with several other NGOS and NEF (National Empowerment Foundation) has planned out a project on poverty alleviation in Mauritius. The project is about helping people in absolute poverty who cannot afford to build a house. They would be constructing 50 houses in concrete with aluminium ceiling with square metres of 21to 25 and costing around Rs 165,000 each. The Currimjee Foundation also sponsors scholarships of Rs 20,000 to needy students attending University of Mauritius and University of Technology of Mauritius. Le Centre Des Pauvres which is found at Grand Riviere Nord Ouest Port Louis provide poor people with clothes and organise food donation. Children are give education materials such as books, copybooks pencils etc and to smaller children toys are given to them.

NGOs have been performing well in different countries around the world. They have been able to help people especially where the government have somehow failed to provide for their citizens. They have brought some light to the people’s life. There are countless things that the NGOs have done the state would not have been able to do as the NGOs works at a micro level. It is easy for them to target the needy people. They have more personal contact with the individual and they are very often on field. And the people also know where to turn to seek help. Poverty alleviation is a tremendous task for every country in the world is it developed countries or developing countries, without the efforts showed by NGOs one third of the work accomplished now would not have been done left alone on the state and other institutions.


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