Poverty, a word that sends shivers down the spine. Poverty as a concept is one of the main drivers of foreign aid that is considered as a help to achieve development and escape that vicious concept.
The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals in 2015 set as a first and primary goal to eradicate poverty by 2030. the UN programme in 1990 set the same goal for the year 2000 as part of the Millennium Development Goals, and a previous UN summit in held 1977 set 1990 as a deadline year for the poverty eradication and achievement of universal schooling, and access the clean water and sanitation.
Here we are in 2017 where those same goals and targets are on the table facing more challenges than ever…
Here we are in 2017 and nobody was held accountable for those goals missed during 40 years…
40 years of fighting poverty, 40 years of countless reforms schemes of foreign aid, 40 years of endless state and international summits talking about tackling poverty, and 40 years detailed in zillion books… 40 years later and foreign aid drivers are still the same;
Have we understood what are we fighting against? Do we know who are we fighting for?
One thing we can agree on: fighting poverty is not binary nor linear, so let start from there.
Poverty is a multidimensional issue, that is the severe deprivations one faces at the same time with respect to education, health and living standards, and as Amartya Sen pointed out poverty and famine have little to do with lack of money and food, but are social and economic issues.
In addressing those social and economic issues the West had a genuine post-colonial change of heart away from racism and toward respect and equality where third world became developing one. The enterprise of the West transforming the Rest got a new name: Foreign Aid. President Truman back in 1949 addressed the issue saying “ We must embark on a bold new programme for the improvement of growth and the underdeveloped areas” anticipating all the United Nations and WorldBank programmes that have convinced the Rest that overcoming poverty was more feasible under a certain freedom such as free markets, private property, and democracy.
The severe deprivation has propelled poverty on the top targets of this foreign aid operating through agencies that usually chose Africa as a default destination because 75% of the poorest countries are located in that specific continent, but more importantly because the region have more than 40% (414 million) living in absolute poverty (less than $1.25 per day). Those genuine initiatives face many challenges as every country has its own political issues, cultural background, history, and social economy.
Africa generalisations have turned out to be a real obstacle in planning for fighting poverty. Because the alarming data generate huge donations that need to be justified very quickly, and making one single plan for 54 countries is easier to draw than adapted ones (especially when there is a scarcity of data, opacity of the environment or high level of corruption), but also those generalisations made implementation of action plans almost impossible because what is applicable in Ethiopia is not necessarily in Mali or Malawi. Another reason why the generalisation’s plans are used is to fight poverty as quick as possible.
Aid agencies find themselves training cows for the Kentucky Derby even before training them to walk and the main explanation is often related to the people footing the bill; rich people or corporations usually have very little knowledge about poverty-related problems, so they usually demand big action plans to nourish the feeling of “something is being done”. in 2005 The New York Times ran an editorial that advocates big plans for Africa called Just Do Something, qualifying the region as critical where something, anything must be done, whether it works or not. if those ineffective plans take pressure out of the West they also prevent the effective ones of happening. Big plans are attractive because it gives one a feeling of being the chosen one and a hero especially politicians, and VIPs who want to make a splash and branding themselves as caring and compassionate, however those people and the public rarely realise that plans at the top are never connected to reality at the bottom.
By providing those big plans, an important component of poverty is left out: ITS COMPLEXITY.
The poverty trap, despite being described by J.Sachs as a problem easier to solve than it looks, is far from being solved and multilateral agencies such as WorldBank, IMF, and United Nations have yet to make history by Making Poverty History.
One must acknowledge that some progress has been made in reducing poverty. Many countries have seen the non-monetary aspects improve such as gains in health, education as their economies grow. According to the WorldBank and UN estimations, the share of poverty in Africa fell from 56% in 1990 to 43% in 2012. However a major factor remains: Population has massively increased during that period going from 631,614,304 in 1990 to 1,044,106,862 in 2012, making the number of poor raising from 280 to 340 million.
Clearly, the twelve cent medicine do not reach all children suffering from malaria…
$3 per mother is not enough to eradicate infant’s mortality…
Building schools without teachers cannot be called education…
So why don’t we ask those poor what they need, the West has fought for the implementation of “No Taxation Without Representation” can it be extended to the Rest, in order to collect feedback and hold agencies and foreign aid accountable for their actions.
Written by Nawal Allal