Poverty in the Caribbean has been an irritating issue for as long as I can remember. It is an issue that has caused many governments in the Caribbean and world-wide, grief and even resulted in their loss at the polls or demise. In truth it is a very hard issue to overcome or rectify due to its magnitude of causes both internal and external to the particular country. To obtain an understanding of the “psychology of poverty” and its cause and effect “in the Caribbean”; one has to examine the following.
Psychology, what is it? Simply put (according to the book “UNDERSTANDING Psychology”, 1992, pg.7, 9.) it “is the study of human behaviour and mental processes. It covers every thing that people think, feel and do, and further seeks to describe, explain, predict and control behaviour.”
Poverty; according to the “The Concise Oxford Dictionary’ means indigence, want, scarcity, inferiority and poorness. However, I prefer to agree with Professor Bourne’s opinion stated in his paper entitled “Poverty and its Alleviation in the Caribbean 2005”; in that poverty is not just defined as those individuals who live off less than one dollar per day ($1.00/day)(as described as the Millennium Development Goal for poverty reduction’s target 2000). But that it is a “pronounced deprivation in wellbeing” “that is to be in poverty or to be poor is to be hungry, lack shelter, clothing, to be sick and lack health care to be illiterate and not schooled and further relating to the work to Amartya Sen, that states that, the state of being poor extends beyond income levels, but is also affected by ‘unfreedoms’ which individuals are subjected to in terms of tyranny or bad treatment by the state and exclusion from participating in decisions and also being vulnerable to economic and natural hazards”
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POVERTY IN THE CARIBBEAN
When one looks at the islands of the Caribbean, in terms of their governmental and economic structure, levels of education, health care and income levels; they are all different. With this in mind the term ‘poor’ might fit into different categories. Countries such as the Bahamas and the U S Virgin Island with their close affiliation to the U.S. and its ‘almighty dollar’ might have a higher standard of living and ‘poor’ in their country might mean middle class in another. To further emphasize their differences; I quote from Professor Bourne’s paper (according to the Surveys of Living Conditions conducted between 1996 and 2002), that “countries such as Haiti and Suriname whose poverty line was 65% and 63% were on the high end of the poverty spectrum, while Belize, Dominica and St Kitts were between 30-40% and Anguilla, St Lucia, Trinidad and Tobago and Turks and Caicos Island were between 20-29%, while Barbados had 14% and Jamaica had 20%;” concluding that at that point in time Barbados had the lowest poverty level in the Caribbean.
CAUSES OF POVERTY
In discussing this issue, due to my being Jamaican by birth and living here all my life; (with few exceptions of travel) and my familiarity with the intricacies of the country and the discovery that there are varied levels of poverty or being poor that exist in this little island . I have chosen to use Jamaica as my example and direct most of my discussion using this island; for I believe that Jamaica is indeed the melting pot of the Caribbean. If one looks widely one will be able to find a native of every Caribbean island living here; just look at our Psychology class! In this class of 21 students, we have Nigerians, (Africa) Guyanese, (South America) and Jamaicans. Quite a mixture indeed!
The causes of poverty in my opinion are varied and I would like to start with that of:
Slavery, (defined as the condition of a slave, which further means to be a helpless victim to or of some dominating influence; according to “The Oxford Concise Dictionary”) is still very operative in our Jamaican society and that of the Caribbean today. Although we boast of having one of the greatest Reggae singers of all time; we have still not fully understood the meaning of Bob Marley’s song which states “EMANCIPATE YOUR SELF FROM MENTAL SLAVERY” In my opinion we as a Caribbean people although we have been made free for a number of years and in Jamaica it has been from 1838; over one hundred and seventy one years ago. Although physically we have been freed, we still possess a type of mentality that causes us to want ‘hand-outs’, and the need to be ‘taken care of’ still exist.(just like when the slaves were on the plantation and looked to their slave masters for their total existence). The word independence or the need to be independent has still not been cemented in our minds; in order to create a change in behaviour that causes us to obtain a sense of determination that says that ‘I will obtain or achieve any thing I put my mind, heart and abilities to.( in respect to the elements of time and opportunities’)
Unemployment and low income levels. I must agree with professor Bourne in his paper mentioned above that the governments of the Caribbean including Jamaica; have not been able to create an adequate amount of jobs for its people; as he states that unemployment is “between 7 and 20%” which is relatively high . Incidentally in Jamaica this has given rise to the hustler mentality. One has but to go to Down-Town Kingston, especially on a market day, that is on a Saturday and sees the amount of individuals who hustle for a living day by day. Hustling ranges from the buying and selling of legitimate goods, to dealing in drugs such as ganja, to that of the gambling of the now famous ‘cash-pot’ which believe it or not puts food on many a table daily. As for low income levels, for example, one has but to look at the difference in pay of Registered Nurses in Barbados whose basic pay is approximately $77,0000 per month compared to the same category of nurses in Jamaica who earn $48,000 per month. This difference one might agree would affect the individual’s ability to save for ‘a rainy day’, or to make investments, to maintain an acceptable standard of living or to even further one’s self academically. Also the inequality of pay scales within a given country can affect its peoples’ poverty levels. Take for instance in Jamaica at this time of world wide financial depression when Nurses and other workers are negotiating for a better pay scale and who are just able to scoop out a meager existence from their meager salaries only to be informed of individuals earning $1.9 million per month for negotiating services. Look at the gross difference!
Volatility of our economy and susceptibility to Natural disasters. I must concur with professor Bourne, when he states that “the Caribbean economy is volatile and this volatility is a contributory factor to poverty”. He further sates that “economic volatility arises from several sources, all of which are not necessarily operative at the same time. The sources include economic dislocation caused by major adverse changes in international markets for Caribbean exports of goods and services”. One has only to look at the issue of the decline in the export our bananas where the European and U.S. markets have now started to import ‘Chiquita’ bananas instead of bananas from the Caribbean. This has impacted negatively on our economies (especially Dominica) in terms of job losses and loss of investments by the governing bodies of these countries involved. Professor Bourne also states that we are also affected by the “acute fiscal difficulties arising from changes in flows of foreign and international debt”. In Jamaica one has only to remember the harsh demands that the International Monetary Fund made on us in the past such as gross job cuts and can only pray that the new intended demands may not be as harsh. (One can only Hope!) As for Natural Disasters, we are quite susceptible in that we are at the mercy of hurricanes and floods. I remember Gilbert as if it was yesterday; when the roof of my house was lost. If it were not for the quick actions of the government of the day in issuing free zinc of which I was a grateful recipient. I would have remained ‘roof-less’ until December of that year when the Insurance representative got around to evaluating the damages and ended up issuing a third of the estimated cost of repairs because he thought that it wasn’t that great a damage! To think, I had Insurance! What about those who could not afford insurance because their low income levels? To further examine these hazards’ effects, just look at what hurricane ‘Ivan’ did to Grenada; Ivan practically flattened Grenada in a few hours and destroyed infrastructures that took years to develop. It literally changed Grenada’s means of existence for long time.
Lack of proper Health Care and Educational facilities. “Poor” people in the Caribbean may be working but might still remain poor. This causes them to be unable to access proper heath care which might result in a rise in chronic diseases such as diabetes and hypertension and even psychotic illnesses such as depression. In Jamaica there is now free health care, but just how effective it has been is another matter. Take for instance my aunt of 82 years, she has a cataract in her eye and needs for it to be repaired surgically. She went to the Kingston Public Hospital to in October 2009, of this year where she got an appointment to return in December, 2009; where another appointment will be given for her to return some time in 2010! I could not believe it when I was told. Can you imagine, by the time December comes, much less 2010 my aunt may be home with the Almighty God! (dead) As for the ability of poor to access education; it can be taxing, with the ever rising cost of school fees, books and uniforms the low income earners and even those of middle income can just barely get by. In Jamaica there is the PATH programme which is of some help to the poor in that it assists with school fees, uniforms etc.; thus taking off some of the financial strain from the parents.
EFFECTS OF PROVERTY
Based on the definition given above that states that being poor or living poverty does not only rely on low income or the lack there of , but also on the lack of proper health care ,proper infrastructure( such as roads, water), educational facilities, tyranny etc. In my opinion, when one looks at the lack or unavailability of these facets in the rural communities of the islands of the Caribbean, one realizes that people who think that the urban communities are a better place will want to migrate to these areas. This can be seen in my country Jamaica where the Government offices, best hospitals and schools are located in the two main urban cities that is Kingston and Montego Bay. This migration often result in over-crowding, further leading to a rise in ‘squatter settlements’ which leads to an increase of tin the spread of disease; thus putting a further strain on the health care system. This type of migration not only happens with in a country, but can also be seen when the Haitians defy dead at sea to come to Jamaica seeking ‘a better life’; thus putting further strain of the Jamaican economy. Although it’s not the only reason for the rise in crime and drug abuse this is still a contributing factor, as can be seen in the rise in the crime rate in these two cities. There is also a brain drain from the rural areas to the urban areas of a particular country and even between countries of the Caribbean and to countries such as the U.S. and Europe in order to obtain a better income, thus enhancing or providing for a perceived improved way of life. This results in the loss of valuable resources that in my opinion is not easily replaced, and if it is replaced costs these countries practically an ‘arm and a leg’ to do so.
One can also examine the effects of the lack of availability of proper health care; and in this case especially to the elderly, who either have very low income gained from their meager pensions or none at all. This makes them vulnerable and easier to succumb to diseases. For the remainder of the population, ill health (mental and physical) often results in low production levels and decreases the internal drive or motivation to succeed, thus increasing the levels of poverty.
The negative effects of international markets on the economies of the Caribbean can be devastating. As was mentioned above; as in Jamaica our dollar is linked strongly to that of the U.S. and if the U.S. dollar falls , our dollar falls; resulting in tremendous losses on the stock market among other investment entities, further resulting in loss of jobs and the demise of companies especially the small businesses. Also if these international countries ‘taste’ change as was also mentioned above, in terms of the bananas they consume; then there goes the banana industries in a down-ward spiral in these countries also.
The inability of our countries to protect ourselves from natural disasters results in a negative effect in that these disasters often destroy agriculture, (which is the main stay of most of these Caribbean islands) infrastructure,(roads, water mains, gullies, electricity) government buildings and private homes. They indeed destroy what it has taken years of hard work, sacrifice, and determination to build. This puts a strain on economies emotionally, physically, and financially to rebuild every time such an occurrence takes place.
ALLEVIATION OF PROVERTY
I believe that in the Caribbean, in the same way that each island is unique in nature, so do the individual people and governments of each island have to identify unique ways in solving this problem of poverty. As seen in the report on the “Cost of Poverty in the Caribbean” by The International Institute for Social Political and Economic Change(IISPEC) and co-sponsored by UNESCO. (March 17-19, 2008). Grenada whose poverty level was 32% in 1998 has implemented Safety Net Programme – allocation of funds, and established Food Basket programmes, and St. Lucia has implemented a Poverty Reduction Fund. I also agree with their list of initiative programmes that have been mentioned, such as. Focus on education & training
– Provide scholarships to encourage more research, Make CDB/CTCS more national in focus
De-politicization of poverty reduction/eradication programmes, Needs national consensus
However I will endeavor to add a few other suggestions to both Jamaica and other islands of the Caribbean, Focus on education & training, Provide scholarships to encourage more research
– Make Caribbean Development Banks a national focus, De-politicization of poverty reduction/eradication programmes, i.e. to take political agendas out of programmes designed to assist the poor and the need for a national census in order to find out the people’s opinion on the matters brought forward to solve the problem of poverty.
In Jamaica, at this time the governing bodies have implemented the Path Programme, which assists needy (poor) people in a financial way to be able to send their children to school to obtain an education, by way of cash payments.
There is also the provision of ‘free’ health care. In my opinion it is a good thought but I do not think that it can be properly maintained especially in this time of financial depression. If one will take the time to examine the following scenario, one might agree with me on point. Take a healthy young man who doesn’t feel that he should work because he’s comfortable ‘hustling’ probably via ‘cash-pot’. He gets a girl pregnant and she gets totally free health care to have this child; the child goes home, grows , starts going to school and gets on the Path programme, where society sends this child to school free of cost. One could argue that this is a way of reducing the levels of both maternal and infant deaths by providing free health care; or that by assisting the child to go to school might reduce the probability that this child being uneducated might be a part of our crime problem in the future. Baring all this in mind I might agree; but I still contend that this might help to promote ‘a freeness mentality’ that is so prevalent in our society; which we need to stomp out of our society, in order for us to improve our way of thinking and thus lift ourselves from poverty. To think even in the large industrial countries health care is not totally free, some one must pay for it! I prefer that my hard earn tax dollars be used to pay for free health care to be available to the elderly, the very young (12 years and under), the destitute, and the mentally and physically challenged; the most vulnerable in our society.
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I think safety nets can be put in place where a disaster fund is implemented to provide for hurricane and flood victims. Also in terms of providing employment I think the provisions of entities such as the HEART ACADEMY and ‘free primary education’ are a GOD sent to poor people. However I think that the provision of more scholarships should be made to assist with further tertiary education.
In terms of enhancing employment I think that the apprenticeship programme should be reimplementation where one can learn while they work and earn. We could also try to re-educate our people in terms of self reliance, to think that the soil is good in order to attract an increased interest in agriculture and along with this to allocate lands to these individuals in order for them to grow and produce more thus providing more jobs.
I conclude that the Caribbean (including Jamaica) has a difficult task in ridding our region of poverty, but not insurmountable! I think that this matter has to be solved with each member state coming together as one. Take for instances at this time, if one looks at our super market shelves, one can see snacks originating from Trinidad and Tobago. But when Jamaica tried to export our ‘patties’ to them it was barred. Although the states of the Caribbean have decided to be apart of the Caribbean Common Market, some states have not held up to their end the agreement.
This results in discontent among member states and ultimately the loss of jobs and the increase in poverty due to their inability to allow free trade in the area.
The states in the Caribbean need to realize that individually, compared to the international arena are small and relatively insignificant. But joining together and being one in mind set, we could be a force to be reckoned with. As a people we need to assist each other in terms of the transference of education, science and technology in order to boost each other’s economies. Thus providing an improved way of thinking and reasoning which will result in a motivated, determined move by the people of this region to rid ourselves of poverty. If not, then to a level that permits an acceptable standard of living.
As the cliché states “together we stand, divided we fall” we as people of the Caribbean need to learn and understand this. To allow this statement to change their mind set from one of individuality and selfishness to one of togetherness and fruitfulness which will ultimately raise the standard of life for our people and in time reduce the levels of poverty in order to maintain an acceptable standard of living; free from hungry tyranny and illness. What do you think? This is just a wish or fantasy! I should hope not. As I choose to think that it can be a reality IF WE WORK HARD AND KEEP FOCUSED!
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