Summing up poverty

The latest Human Development Report highlights the need for people- and resource-friendly development

Published: Saturday 04 July 2015

ENVIRONMENTAL degradation of resource- deficient lands, which are home to more than half the world's population, is a serious concern of the 1997 Human Development Report (HDR) which was released on June 12 by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). Focusing on poverty, this eighth annual survey has mooted a six-point programme including promotion of political rights for the poor people to eradicate extreme poverty across the globe by early next century. Says UNDP's representative to India, Hans C von Sponeck, "Politics is inseparable from environment and development."

Prepared by an international team of economists, the HDR notes that 800 million (m) people worldwide do not have enough to eat and 1.3 billion live on less than one us dollar a day. On this dollar-a-day scale, poverty in the developing world fell from 34 per cent of the global population in 1987 to 32 per cent in 1993. As of now, south Asia accounts for 515 in or 39 per cent of the world's poor, Africa for 219 m (17 per cent) and Latin America for 110 in (nine per cent). While income-related poverty levels are falling in Asia, they are increasing in Africa and Latin America.

The report also introduces a more complex scale for measuring poverty: the human poverty index based on life expectancy (percentage of people expected to die before 40), education level (percentage of adult illiterates) and overall material provision (percentage of people who lack access to healthcare and safe water, and percentage of children under five who are underweight). On this scale, over a fourth of the developing world is poor.

The report details the environment poverty nexus. The livelihoods of people living in drylands, swamps, saline lands and steep slopes are directly affected by natural resource degradation, the report notes. For instance, in China, almost all of the 65 million officially recognised low-income people live in remote and mountainous rural areas. If current policies and conditions continue, their numbers will rise to 800 million by AD 2020.

Overall, the highest incidence of poverty occurs in and zones. Drylands alone are home to about 1.5 billion people. The HDR shows that poverty increases as rainfall decreases. Sub-Saharan Africa has the highest and the fastest growing number of poor people. In seven African countries in this belt, human poverty affects more than half the population. Between 1990 and 1994, per capita income in sub-Saharan Africa fell by 2.4 per cent.

As for reasons for the misery in the drylands, the HDR points at the increasing pressure on natural resources. Growing population and claims on common property resources are making the poor even less secure. Resources such as water, fuel, grazing areas and also nuts, berries and medicinal herbs, arc vital for the poorest people. "With traditional social structures weakened by social change, traditional rights are not always upheld and protected. Market forces also put pressure on common property resources and policies protect neither the environment nor the poor," the HDR notes.

According to the report, other reasons for the spiralling rate of poverty are: low levels of agricultural productivity and environmentally damaging adaptations such as overgrazing, diminishing fallow lands and extension of agriculture to ranges and slopes. "It is time to shift attention from resource-rich to resource-poor people's livelihoods," says the report.

The HDR has suggested several measures for fighting poverty, which include:

Political rights to poor people and people-centred policies to ensure the poor access to clean water, education, healthcare and safety nets

Promoting gender equality

Pro-poor growth

Fairer world trade, debt relief

Special support from the international community for conflict prevention.

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