About Poverty

This article aims to give a brief discussion about poverty. If you are looking for our poverty cycle diagram then it is here. It contains the sections;

  1. What is Poverty?

  2. What are the Effects of Poverty?

  3. What Causes Poverty?

  4. How does the Poverty Cycle Operate?

  5. What are the Solutions to Poverty?

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What is Poverty?

Poverty is an abstract word which can be associated with many things. However it is often used in conjunction with material possessions belonging to people so that the word poverty means a lack of material possessions belonging to a person. There are other uses of the word poverty as this quote shows 'Poverty is also a type of religious promise, a state that may be taken on voluntarily in keeping with practices of piety.'. Here we will be discussing poverty in terms of the former definition.

When talking about poverty in material terms,  poverty is typically measured by monetary value. Relative to today's standards, poverty has been determined by the world bank as having an income of less than $2/day. However we can also measure poverty in terms of material goods. In terms of material goods poverty often equates to a lack of some of the most basic and important material goods such as a lack of water, sanitation, nutrition, gender equality, health facilities, education, jobs and an increase in Malaria and HIV/AIDS cases. Wikipedia lists some more properties of poverty.

Poverty is also generally understood to be the situation where 20, 000 die each day as a result of extreme poverty. 8, 000 of malaria, 5, 000 of tuberculosis, 7, 500 of AIDS and thousands more of diarrhea, respiratory infection and other killer diseases [3]. 'The poor die in hospitals wards that lack drugs, in villages that lack antimalarial bed nets, in houses that lack safe drinking water. They die namelessly, without public comment. Sadly such [news] stories rarely get written. Most people are unaware of the daily struggles for survival, and of the vast numbers of impoverished people around the world who lose that struggle' [3].

Hunger - chronic, acute, hidden.





Lack of sanitation & water

Gender inequality

Poor health care

Low Education


Low levels of infrastructure infrastructure - transport, public sector, utilities, energy & financial

Poor maternal & child health

Low environmental care

Low life expectancy

Low wages

Street children

Social exclusion

Domestic violence

Increased vulnerability to natural disasters

Low literacy

Large family sizes

What are the Effects of Poverty?

Examples of the effects of poverty include the properties of poverty discussed under, 'What is Poverty?', although our list there is not comprehensive. The effects of poverty are circular. One poverty property causes another which through its subsequent causes leads back to that original poverty property. In this sense poverty is like a trap, once you are in it is a cycle that goes round and round. However, one you reverse the effect of a link in the chain the cycle leads to better circumstances.

What are the Causes of poverty?

Numerous things may cause poverty. Examples are; lack of saving, absence of trade, technological reversal, natural resource decline, adverse productivity shocks and population growth [3]. All these things though are relatively short term. What caused poverty in the long term? Well, it's kind of a bad question because relative to today the world used to be poor consistently, throughout the world. It was the start of the industrial revolution that onset greater productivity and with it greater wealth. It's not so much that the poor got poorer than the rich got richer. Although it is the case that in some areas the poor have become poorer over time. So, the question should be, not what made the poor poorer but what made people wealthy.

The first things that set off creation of wealth were crucially the industrial revolution supported also by a rise in agricultural output. 'The dramatic breakthrough came when Britain's nascent industry first mobilized new form of energy for production at scales never before previously managed' [3]. The steam engine was the decisive turning point of modern history. Britain was said to have made it first as a result of its free and open society, political liberty, private property protection, scientific centeredness, geographical advantages such as sea based trade with North America, less risk of invasion and sovereignty and coal resources [3].

The spread of this technology throughout the globe then initiated industrial revolutions in other countries. For example Britain brought industrialization to its colonies like Australia. And the standard of living rose throughout the world. However, at the beginning of the 20th century, the world wars put an end to this period of seemingly unstoppable growth and took with them the world trading system. When the system was reorganized in the 1950's many colonies had been lost by former colonial nations such as Britain. The world divided in to the first, second and third world, the first which took part in an international trading system, and the second and third world which didn't because wither they were communist or non trusting of the first world after years of experience being run by colonial powers. Thus the first world grew and the second and third didn't. Of course this is not the only reason, a mixture of other reasons including the shorter term reasons already mentioned affected the standard of living in countries.

One particular cause of poverty identified as being the best separating factor between successful and unsuccessful third world nations is having a high crop yield. Interestingly we have already mentioned how a high agricultural output aided Britain in the onset of the industrial revolution. Maybe we are onto something here. It is interesting also to note that cheap, subsidized farming imports from countries such as France and the US are flooding developing country markets meaning that farmers cannot sell their goods and so agricultural output is low. Are we doing the right thing here?


How does the Poverty Cycle Operate?

We have already mentioned under effects of poverty that poverty is like a trap, cyclical where one poverty affects another which ends up affecting the first one, and that we need to break this trap. This section gives examples of this cycle of poverty.

  1. Poverty of mothers means they cannot buy nutritious food for themselves or their children. Lack of education about nutrition means mothers don't but nutritious food for them or their children. Mothers with low nutrition causes young children to have low nutrition through birth. For example  not feeding children through nutritious breast feeding and not supplying them with enough vitamins and minerals such as zinc and iodine leads to poor development of children in their early years. Lack of iron can also cause anemia in pregnancy which leads to low child weight at birth. Low child weight at birth also reduces child nutrition. So children end up with poor nutrition at a young age. Because a large part of physical development takes place before the age of 5 requiring nutrition, this has a detrimental affect on health when children are older. This detrimental affect on health increases susceptibility for disease and further health problems. This makes it harder to earn a living and provide food for future generations of children. [2]

  2. No education means that children don't receive better sanitation which reduces child nutrition. It also means lack of systematic de-worming and nutritious school meals improving  nutrition. This reduces health which means children are even less likely to go to school. Lack of education also means lack of educated women which means mothers are less likely to send children to school. Lack of education of women means also lack of gender equality which means mothers are less likely to be able to have the voice to send children to school. No education means poorer jobs which means that people are less likely to have the money to send children to school. [2]

  3. Lack of modern farming techniques such as using combinations of mineral and organic fertilizers reduces crop yield meaning that there is less nutritious food to eat, and less nutritious food to sell, which means there is less money to buy new fertilizer. [2]

  4. Less income from selling crop may mean that farmers can't cover costs of depreciation. If the plough breaks down, there won't be enough to buy a new one, and so crop yield will decrease further. This means that incomes per person and also capital per person will fall. [3]

  5. Lack of good transport systems may mean farmers have to pass on an opportunity to sell cash crops which could have earned them more meaning lower income per capita. This lowers taxes which lowers opportunity for re-investment. Lack of transport also means women and children have to walk further to gather water and wood for the fire which in turn means less time spent in education for the children, and gender inequality for women. This means less quality jobs in the future, less taxes and investment in infrastructure. [2]

  6. Lack of income per capita means that the population remains in poverty relative to other places. This means that the population continue to experience some of the properties of poverty and don't have the luxury goods of the wealthier places. Lack of income per capita means people can't buy food, clean water, health care, new equipment to build a business such as farming to earn more money, and means one can barely keep up with any existing business one has. Businesses can't employ more staff, so unemployment remains low. Supply is low because there isn't enough income to create productivity, and demand is low because there isn't enough capita to use to purchase. So they can't earn more.


What are the Solutions to poverty?

The idea of solutions for poverty is to find solutions where the poor can work their own way out of poverty. We have already discussed the poverty trap. The idea now is to find ways of reversing the effects of links in the chain so that the cycle can begin to work in a different way. The list of interventions below are examples of a few interventions which have fairly diverse effects. (If you don't mind looking at a bit of a messy diagram), then take a look at this map which shows how many solutions to poverty link together in a big picture (you will need software to scroll around the picture and zoom in and out). The information for this map is sourced from [2].  For a comprehensive look at the task force publications of solutions to poverty at reference [2] which lists hundreds of interventions in many different areas and explains the different effects of each.

The UN has arrived at a series of quick wins which list around 20 different interventions for ending poverty in a cost effective way. You can access them from the MDG Support site. The MDG support site also has a handbook detailing how developing nations can work their way out of poverty. You can access it from the MDG Support site. This handbook contains of a checklist of around 100 interventions detailing what each does which you might want to look at.

These UN documents along with the Millennium project which is reference [2] outline the UN's solutions to ending poverty. They are based on fulfilling the Millennium Development Goals. Our solutions are based largely on these UN documents. We have taken a 'set of on the ground' interventions from them and evaluated the cycle of effects among them to work out which are most effective. These are the results in solutions.

  1. Applying appropriate combinations of mineral fertilizers, using green manures to improve soil fertility, planting fertilizer trees, returning crop residues to the soil, using improved measures of soil erosion control and water conversion and using nitrogen fixing seeds can improve soil health which can improve farming productivity. This leads to more nutritious food in farmers' markets which leads to more mothers and children who are nutritious which leads to better health, meaning more employment, more income per capita and more to invest in farming. [2]

  2. Improved water, sanitation, feeder and main roads, alternative energy sources such as kerosene and LPG for cooking, rural electrification all empower women by allowing them to spend less time doing basic chores such as fetching wood and water. Improved gender equality does a whole host of things such as increases women's chances of jobs which leads to more gender equality which may lead to women having the power to create better water, sanitation and energy sources at home. It increases access to reproductive health care, which strengthens maternal and child health. It encourages better birth spacing and more income per capita through population control. It encourages children to be educated at school, and encourages mothers to help them with education such as teaching them how to read. It encourages improved nutrition as mothers are able to take control in deciding how to feed children.

  3. Nutritious school meals, farming improvements, clean water & sanitation, hygiene education and nutrition education can all lead to improved nutrition. Improved nutrition leads to improved health in general and accounts for maybe 50% of all illness worldwide.  People who are healthier are able to work for longer. This means less unemployment and more income per capita which means more ability to provide nutritious school meals, clean water and sanitation.

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  1. Wikipedia (Website)

  2. UN Millennium Project (Website-Reports)

  3. The End of Poverty. Jeffrey Sachs. (Book)

 End of About Poverty