Rashid A Mughal
WE know where the poor are and we also know where the rich and richest are. Sadly this gap between the two is rising at an alarming rate. We know there are people who are hardly able to afford one meal a day and we also know that there are people whose one-dinner bill is equal to one year food for some. The gap between “haves” and “haves-not” is widening in spite of best efforts of governments and private entities. The millennium goals set by UN are still hard and far to achieve. True the global economy is on a bumpy drive since last 7-8 years but there are people who turned millionaires and billionaires during these rough and tough times.
Their wealth increased manifold while the poor got poorer and it is becoming out of reach for them to have a decent one-time meal. Who is to blame for this malaise. Are the governments responsible for it or the individuals? I would say both. Governments because they don’t enact stringent laws which check “in-equality” of income and individuals because they don’t share their riches with poor, hungry, mal-nourished and down-trodden. We know global poverty and literacy scenario. About 900 million people cannot read and write. Almost 57 million primary school age children are not in school and 49% will never be able to go to school. Over 774 million adults are illiterate of which 2/3 are females.
The $1.90 per person per day threshold for extreme poverty is a standard adopted by the World Bank and other international organizations to reflect the minimum consumption and income level needed to meet a person’s basic needs. That means that people who fall under that poverty line— 1/8 of the world’s population, or 800 million people—lack the ability to fulfil basic needs, whether it means eating only one bowl of rice a day or forgoing health care when it’s needed most.
The largest portion of the world’s poor is the 800 million poor women, children, and men who live in rural areas. They tend to live in remote areas that are at great distances from the nearest markets and basic social services. They are mothers and fathers, most of whom are daily work labourers, subsistence farmers, herders, and migrant workers. They struggle to meet basic everyday needs, such as feeding their families at least two meals a day, or taking their children to a clinic when they have fallen ill. The rural poor also work in insecure and relatively low-paying jobs, have little education, and may experience discrimination as women and as members of ethnic minorities.
For all of these reasons, the rural poor themselves say that they suffer from hunger, ill health, illiteracy, instability, and low self-esteem as well as marginalisation from their own governments who are often unresponsive to their needs and concerns. Empowering rural poor is a critical step in advancing any poverty alleviation effort. Doing so must build on a person’s own willingness and capacities to provide for their family and to forge a more dignified, better future. This requires assets from which to build sustainable livelihoods, education about their rights and how to put those assets to good use, and a safe place to save to continue building those assets and to cope with future hardships. In fact, most basic financial services reach only 10% of rural communities.
The plight of human beings in Sudan is worth mentioning. When fighting broke out in South Sudan in mid-December 2013, several thousand people packed into the bases of the UN Mission in South Sudan to seek refuge. Most, if not all of them, thought it would be temporary – they thought things would return to normal and they would be back home soon. Two years have now passed, but 184,000 people are still living in these Protection of Civilians areas. Although they say they appreciate the security provided by the UN peacekeepers and the humanitarian assistance they receive, many also worry about how long they can keep living in protected but isolated camps within their own country.
Over the last decade, a large share of the population in the Europe and Central Asia region has benefited from economic advances generated by strong growth in their communities. New opportunities have opened up in labour markets and entrepreneurship, new infrastructure and services have come about, and people have accumulated new knowledge and assets. On the other hand, the economic transition of the 1990s, the recent economic crisis, and other shocks have reduced the role of the state as a source of employment and have taken a toll on many households.
Using new qualitative data from nine countries – Bosnia and Herzegovina, FYR Macedonia, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kosovo, Kyrgyz Republic, Serbia, Tajikistan and Turkey – including structured focus group discussions and semi-structured in-depth interviews in 43 communities, a survey report explored factors that have supported or hindered economic mobility and access to jobs among men and women in the region. Listening to people from across Europe and Central Asia reveals that, despite an overall good performance in economic growth and shared prosperity, there is a lot of discontent and rising concerns about a disappearing middle class
While economic growth in most countries in the region has created a ladder to better living standards, many people see no open path to climb above the first rungs. Instead, men and women across the region describe societies that are greatly and increasingly polarized. Across countries, people are voicing frustration about slow progress, inequality of opportunities and the limited sustainability of the gains that have been achieved. The lack of good jobs, particularly among women and youth, is driving the discontent amidst rising prosperity. Access to jobs is the main factor that can propel households into higher living standards and the middle class, or precipitate a downward spiral. In USA, even at so-called full employment, some 20 million Americans are left behind. They need more work-hours to make both end meet. Their plight comes even as the U.S. flirts with what economists consider the maximum level of employment for the first time since before the recession, having added 15.8 million jobs since the start of 2010.
While some of America’s jobless are simply between gigs, those persistently stuck out of work are called the structurally unemployed. However, jobs are seen as out of reach for a large share of people, with social norms and the lack of professional and social networks and connections emerging as important barriers to get a job. The overwhelming majority of people in the region, even youth, still associate the middle class and upward mobility with jobs that are full-time, formal and with open contracts. The vast majority still aspire to a public sector job because of various factors-access to power being dominant.
Targeted social policies aimed at reducing poverty are widespread today, both among rich countries and, increasingly, among emerging middle-income economies. Concerns about their incentive effects have long been prominent. Do they create disincentives for participants to earn more income, leading to a poverty trap, is still a big question. The bottom line is that Poverty and Un-employment and still two hydra-headed monsters which have affected economic growth, failed to pull many people on earth out of hunger and medical accessibility and reasonably decent living. Unless all the rich countries, UN and local governments devise poor-friendly policies the nightmare will never end.
— The writer is former DG (Emigration).