The Scourge of Poverty

Poverty is both a cause and effect of political instability and is often a result of the denial of basic human needs and human rights. The poorest countries are those who are suffering the dual forces of globalization and marginalization. Many of them are left with the legacy of distorted national boundaries and divided polities as a result of colonial rule, and/or of incorporation into a centralized political empire that has disintegrated in the post-Cold War period. A good number of them are also are involved in regional geopolitical machinations and their political landscape is complicated by the growing of ethnic or religious differences.

Providing relief to tackle poverty is not only inadequate, sometimes it can become the sustaining mechanism that keeps the poor poorer. Relief in times of emergencies is a human rights issue which must be ensured. But relief cannot be a means to address poverty. The provision of aid and relief services in the context of chronic conflict and political instability challenges existing structures and institutions in a number of significant ways; and yet cannot transform situations on its own. The persistent nature of contemporary conflict means that conventional relief responses have its own limitations largely because relief mechanisms are short term interventions and are often designed to save lives in the face of temporary threats to livelihoods.  

But when conflicts continue over the long term, there is a major question as to whether and how external assistance might be used more effectively to enable households to secure their basic needs and to maintain public services, such as health and education, which are basic human rights for all. While relief services invariably include a commitment to poverty eradication, their criteria for aid services often exclude precisely those countries that are the poorest – namely, those experiencing recurrent or continuous violent conflict – because of donor policies that stem out of political conditions. Hence, they are limited to providing humanitarian assistance in order to avoid working with governments that are not internationally recognised as legitimate. 

There is thus a profound mismatch between the structures and institutions of the international aid, and the characteristics and dynamics within countries experiencing protracted conflict and political instability. Humanitarian inputs generally offer a comparatively small contribution to local coping strategies that allow for people to survive

There is a clear indication in the world that international assistance for those in greatest need is unavailable because they seem hardest to reach by international communities. The political conditions that create the deepest and most intractable poverty are the same that prevent effective and ethical developmental assistance. In this context, there is the need to improve understanding both of the particular needs of populations living in these difficult environments, and the constraints they face in maintaining their livelihoods and addressing their poverty.

The world is at a threshold. The economic melt down has indicated that all interactions – socially, politically and economically are inter-connected and any attempts to rescue the down-turn can only work when global systems are protected and strengthened. Poverty eradication is no longer a great charity event – it is a global responsibility not just to protect the poor but to sustain the rich as well.