Living a lavish life is a dream for anyone and everyone on earth. Yet, unfortunately, not many can see this dream come to reality within their lifespan. While some are fortunate enough to travel in SUVs and dine out at the best hotels in the world, many others are destined to walk till their soles wear off and thrive on a slice of bread and a few drops of water. The unequal distribution of power, wealth and resources has been responsible for the millions of lives that are left to die, globally each year. Why they die and what causes a majority to be left begging for a better life, is a question that has not yet been answered.
Consequently, the deadliest result of skyrocketing economies, unequal distribution of resources and greed is nothing but, poverty.
International Day for the Eradication of Poverty
Poverty is an issue that exists all around the world. Even the wealthiest countries in the planet have people living below the bread-line. Poverty has existed ever since money has existed because people are always willing to exploit others for their own personal gain. All throughout history those with a capacity have ensured that they stay in their positions of wealth and power at the expense of the less fortunate.
The observance of International Day for the Eradication of Poverty can be traced back to 17 October 1987. On that day, over a hundred thousand people gathered at the Trocadéro in Paris, where the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was signed in 1948, to honour the victims of extreme poverty, violence and hunger. They proclaimed that poverty was a violation of human rights and affirmed the need to come together to ensure that these rights were respected.October 17 presents an opportunity to acknowledge the effort and struggle of people living in poverty, a chance for them to make their concerns heard and a moment to recognize that poor people are the first ones to fight against poverty. The commemoration of October 17 also reflects the willingness of people living in poverty to use their expertise to contribute to the eradication of poverty.
Poverty in Sri Lanka
Although Sri Lanka has been an exceptional country with its life expectancy, literacy rate and other social indicators nearly on par with those of developed countries, and even topping the rankings in the South Asia region, poverty is a growing problem. The post-war era has marked a significant success in the country’s economy with booming businesses, soaring stock markets and the rise of tourism. A drive around Colombo will take you through a prosperous capital city reaping its peace dividends. Yet, with all this success, we are blinded by the obvious reality: that Sri Lanka is still a poor country.
Sri Lanka too seems to have ‘serious levels’ of hunger, even though our rating on the Global Hunger Index (GHI) has improved from the 43rd to the 39th. According to the Department of Census and Statistics (DCS), in 2009/10 approximately 8.9% of the population in Sri Lanka, or 1.8 million individuals, have been categorized as poor. This is a significant improvement compared to 2000, when approximately 22.7 % of the population was identified as poor and shows that Sri Lanka has already achieved the Millennium Development Goal of halving poverty by 2015. However, according to the World Bank, compared to any other Asian country, Sri Lanka’s economy has faced a significant growth by 2013. This highlights a link between isolation from social and economic infrastructure, cities and markets and higher levels of poverty incidence. Since more than 40 per cent of the poor people living in rural areas are farmers with limited resources, their production systems may be hampered by the usual suspects of fragmented landholdings, poor economies of scale, low investment levels resulting from poor financial services as well as inappropriate or limited technology.
Moreover, the country remains stunningly unequal, with the richest 10 per cent of the people holding nearly 40 per cent of the wealth and the poorest 10 per cent holding barely over one per cent. The usual measure of income inequality has been the Gini Coefficient. The value of Gini Coefficient ranges from zero to one where zero denotes that income is equally distributed among all and one denotes that one family gets all the income. Normally, a country with a low income inequality has a Gini Coefficient of 0.3 or less. Countries with a Gini Coefficient between 0.3 and 0.4 have a moderate inequality, between 0.4 and 0.6 high inequality and above 0.6 extremely high inequality.
In 1950, the country’s Gini Coefficient had amounted to 0.5 and it had remained at that level in both 2003-4 and 2006-7 and slightly declined to 0.48 in 2012-13.
At district level, the hardships faced by the poor can be given a closer look. While some earn a living by plucking tea and farming paddy in the south, those in the North and East earn by fishing and farming. The figure below shows the Multidimensional Poverty Headcount at district level :
UNDP’s Global Human Development Report 2014
The Human Development Report (HDR) is an annual milestone published by the Human Development Report Office of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). The 2014 HDR – Sustaining Human Progress : Reducing Vulnerabilities and Building Resilience, provides a fresh perspective on vulnerability and proposes ways to strengthen resilience. The dissemination event of UNDP’s Global Human Development Report 2014 was held on October 17 to coincide with the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty.
According to income-based measures of poverty, 1.2 billion people live with $1.25 or less a day. However, according to the UNDP Multidimensional Poverty Index, almost 1.5 billion people in 91 developing countries are living in poverty with overlapping deprivations in health, education and living standards.
Speaking at the event, Professor Mohan Munasinghe, Chairman of the Munasinghe Institute of Development (MIND) said, “Manufactured capital, social capital and natural capital are what makes a sustainable development triangle. We need a balance in this triangle in order to come out of issues such as poverty. There are many social, economic and environmental goals that are yet to be reached. Key sustainable development challenges include dependence on critical imports, public sector corruption, youth and youth unemployment and the aging human population. We should find tasks that old people can manage to do. Another way to increase sustainable development is to mobilize civil societies to work with the government. There are multiple problems that may arise: but what is important is to face them strong.”
“Poverty is the worst form of violence.”
– Mahatma Gandhi
Pix by Kithsiri De Mel