The central challenge of he 21st century is to create governance that
include and respond to the priorities and concerns of the poor.
From Shamim Ahmed
Apr 03 - 09, 2000
A new research report on poverty released by the World Bank last week
has revealed causes and effect of global poverty. The report titled "voices of the
poor" presents detailed personal accounts from over 60,000 men and women in 60
countries about the realities of living with poverty, and what the poor need to improve
From Georgia to Brazil, and Nigeria to the Philippines, the new book
chronicles the daily struggles and aspirations of the poor, and how their lives are shaped
by common hardships such as hunger, powerlessness, social isolation, state corruption,
gender inequality and the rudeness of local officials. According to many of those
interviewed in the book, poverty is much more than a lack of income. Poverty also means
having no 'voice' in influencing key decisions that affect their lives, or representation
in state and national political institutions.
What poor people stare with us is sobering, "write World Bank
President, James D. Wolfensohn and British International Development Secretary, Clare
Short in the foreword to Voices of the Poor." We commend to you the authenticity and
significance of this work....our core mission is to help poor people succeed in their own
efforts, and the book raises major challenges to both our institutions and to all of us
concerned about poverty. We are prepared to hold ourselves accountable, to make the effort
to respond to these voices.
The new study, the result of ten years intensive consultation with the
poor on five continents, was to gather first-hand research about the line lives of the
poor, what whey wanted to improve their lives, and drive innovative new Bank policies to
reduce poverty, for its upcoming annual World Development Report, which this year
addresses the theme of 'Attacking Poverty'.
Based on the thousands of discussions with communities throughout the
developing world, the book offers a number of key findings which the poor themselves say
greatly affect their daily lives.
The persistence of poverty is linked to a web of recurring factors.
First, while poverty is rarely about the lack of only thing, the bottom line is that the
poor constantly live with hunger; second, poverty has important psychological dimensions,
such as powerlessness voicelessness, dependency, shame and humiliation; third, the poor
lack access to basic infrastructure, such as roads, transportation and clean water;
fourth, people realize education offers an escape from poverty, but only if the quality of
education and the economic environment in the society at large improve; fifth, illness is
especially feared because of exorbitant health care costs and not being able to work; and
last, the poor rarely speak of income but instead focus on managing assets physical,
human, social, and environmental as a way to cope with their vulnerability.
While recognizing the role of government in providing infrastructure,
health, and education services, the poor feel that these government interventions should
go much further. Too many interactions with state representatives are marred by rudeness
and humiliation as the poor seek services such as health care, education for their
children, social and relief assistance, police protection or justice from local
Poor men and women often do not trust government officials. This is
based on their daily experience with corrupt civil servants, their attempts to get
teachers to educate their children, trying to get medicines from health clinics even after
they have paid for them, seeking justice, or trying to get police to protect them.
Households after disintegrate as men, unable to adapt to their
"failures to earn adequate incomes under harsh economic circumstances, after turn to
alcoholism or domestic violence, leading to a breakdown f$ the family structure, In
contrasts women tend to swallow their pride and do demeaning jobs or anything that puts
food on the table for their children and husbands.
Gender inequity remains remarkably stubborn; economic empowerment for
women does not necessarily lead to social empowerment or equality within households.
Social insurance the bonds of reciprocity and trust which the
poor depend on in the absence of material assets is unravelling. Difficult to
reverse, the breakdown in social solidarity and social bonds leads to increased
lawlessness, violence and crime, to which the poor are most vulnerable within a society.
The central challenge of he 21st century is to create governance system
from the local to the global level that include and respond to the priorities and concerns
of the poor. This requires investment in their organizations so they can negotiate
directly with governments, NGOs, traders, and international agencies. In a sense, 'Voices
of the Poor' is a wake up call for all people and organizations concerned with
poverty" the author concludes. The World Bank report has invited its partners
countries around the world to hear the voices of poor and initiate programme to alleviate
poverty. Nothing specifically has been mentioned about Pakistan in the report but the
conclusion is that most of the causes listed in the report persists in all the developing
countries including Pakistan where over 40 per cent of the population is estimated to be
living below poverty level. It is an couraging to note that the present government under
General Pervez Musharraf has already taken note of it and the government of Pakistan has
promptly responded to the call of the World Bank. Apart from numerous steps to ensure good
governance, the government has announced Rs. 40 billion 3 year programme for waging a war
against poverty despite financial constraints.
Making the beginning the federal cabinet has set a reasonable and
confidence-inspiring time limit for the utilization of Rs. 15 billion, as earmarked for
various development projects under the poverty alleviation programme during the current
year. While synchronizing the completion of the various schemes with the local bodies
elections toward the yearend, it has rightly decided to involve local communities at
district level administration, along with the army monitoring teams to create an ideal
environment of participatory development, so vital to an effort of truly national
importance. It will thus be seen that a marked departure has been made from the past
strategy of leaving everything to the bureaucracy, which has its own way of dealing with
matters of public importance, keeping the people for away from planning and
implementation. No wonder, then, in most of the cases the projects remain wide of the
mark, ending up in haste of enormous resources. There can be no denying the efforts, as
made from time to time, to associate the people, through their representatives at the
local bodies level, but preponderance of the bureaucracy in such matters hardly makes such
participation serve the desired purpose. This, again, may be attributed to the too weak
institutional framework of the entire local bodies system, which also calls for drastic
reforms in order to strengthen the democratic dispensation at the grassroots level. The
new proposal of district government will fully take care of this aspect.